Why COVID-19 is Anything But “The Great Equalizer.”

How we’ve confused our shared vulnerability with a perceived sense of equity.

I’ve written this blog more times than I can count.

For whatever reason, I haven’t posted it. I write and I re-write. It has morphed many times.

I found myself too wordy, or feeling a little bit “soap-boxy”. I have all the drafts in my saved documents.

But I feel angst and I have to say something.

Hearing COVID-19 being referred to as the great equalizer is exhausting. Because it isn’t.

There. I said it (try to think of it as consciousness-raising and not judgement).

“Anyone can get it ~ even Hollywood is quarantining!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this or some version of this.

Don’t get me wrong… I love looking at the insides of peoples’ homes; the late night talk show hosts, the news anchors, the recording artists and the SNL cast.

But no one seems to be talking about those people for whom COVID-19 has made an already marginalized existence even more marginalized.

While the Governor emphasizes mask-wearing and social distancing as best prevention, I know people who are looking at each other, wondering, “How?”

When you are living in an overcrowded home or are doubled up because you’ve lost your housing, social distancing is a privilege for other people. Keeping high risk folks distant from low risk folks isn’t an option. When three or four generations of people live together, COVID spreads like wildfire.

When suddenly schools went on-line, we forgot about those who might not have access to the levels of information that many of us have. When information is disseminated by email, people with no internet service don’t receive the information. If you are someone who attends community college and rely on the desktop computers made available to students at the school, you didn’t have the means to do your homework once the schools closed. Adding obstacles like that to an already complicated life is just what it takes to have students drop out. The Boston Globe reported this weekend that 10,000 students in the Boston Public School system have not logged on once to access their classes.

COVID-19 has prevented many immigrant students from being able to access the one thing they came to this country for: an education. They have lost their allies in the school system. They can’t access their education because of language or internet access, and are among those still working, at risk to their health, because there aren’t other options.

I recently spoke to a social worker who was helping a high school student create a budget. This student, whose hours had been reduced, had to pay their “coyote” ~ the term used to describe the brokers who bring folks to the United States at a very high price ~ under the threat of murder to their family back home. Coyotes don’t really care that COVID-19 has gotten in the way of their payments; they want to be paid. For these young, unaccompanied minors, keeping their families safe is a priority.

Sidebar: these first generation kids who miss out on the ceremony of graduation, be it from high school or college, are still plugging along, doing their thing. Because they have to. HAVE TO. They can’t afford to lament that rite of passage. I’d like to see us lament it for them.

And masks? I would have no idea how to get a mask if I didn’t have Facebook. I know. Embarrassing. And yet, we see people of color being harassed in some areas of our country for not wearing masks.

The rate of gun violence has increased in the City of Boston. People have lost their infrastructure. They are selling their phones, cutting off their WiFi, wondering how they’ll pay back rent. They have lost their social workers and case managers.

People are lonely.

People are scared.

Because people are focusing on survival ~ maintaining an income, keeping their family healthy, and staying fed ~ their brain chemistry is actually changing. This kind of trauma closes our neural pathways and contracts our thinking. Depression and anxiety cause our executive functioning to shut down.

Asking people to jump through hoops to get services or food or medical care can feel as simple as, “This is not for you. It’s for the ‘other’ people.”

And we wonder why people rage. We judge. We separate ourselves.

Or we tell ourselves the lie that the Coronavirus has made us all the same.

It has not. It has revealed an already existing chasm and made it much bigger.

So please, stop. I know you mean well. It makes us all feel better to know we are just like John Legend or Jimmy Kimmel or Margot Robbie.

Let’s not forget about those looking to us. Many of us are the privileged; those who can get on-line and see family via zoom. Who can socially distance, even in our homes. We aren’t wondering where our next roll of toilet paper will come from (although admittedly, I have wondered this) or our next gallon of milk.

When we look to our left and see a great equalizer, but let’s also look to our right. There is a chasm there that needs to be acknowledged. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t see it. Please see it.

Everything I Need to Know about Social Distancing I Learned from My Insta Pot

1.  Everything takes longer than I think it will; and definitely longer than the experts say it will.

When I bought my Insta Pot, they said, “Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes…” which I translated into 7.5 minutes because I am “efficient”. What they don’t tell you is that after food prep, after pressurizing the pot, and before releasing the steam, the dinner takes 15 minutes. Include all those other processes, and we’re at 45 to an hour. 

As I spend time at home, I’m acutely aware of all the things I think I can make happen. My expectations are not aligned with the accepted social construct of time. If you lived with me, you might have heard me say we could get the yard picked up, the upstairs painted, the basement cleared out, our closets cleaned, the garage bay cleared, and maybe even get a bulldozer to make a new spot for Kayla’s car. This was a problem before the quarantine and continues to be a problem after the quarantine. It’s the KIDS who don’t have work to do. And even that isn’t true. I actually still work for a living so the quarantine hasn’t actually given me ANY additional time. So riddle me that. Mindset (what we choose to believe or not believe about our thoughts) is everything and my mindset, like the marketers of the Insta Pot, is a big, fat, liar.

2.  If I don’t follow the directions exactly, nothing works the way it should. 

Have you ever not put liquid in the Insta Pot? Or decided you didn’t have to saute the meat first? Yeah, dinner wasn’t so good those nights. Or didn’t happen at all. 

I often think I can “interpret” the rules. Or even that I know better than the experts, despite lots of practice being wrong. Cats don’t have dogs; cats have kittens. Why would I think that my children are going to be any different from me? They are kittens. They ALSO think they can be “interpret” the rules. At the beginning of the “social distancing movement,” we told them they could each see ONE friend. That one friend turned into a party. Social distancing wasn’t practiced. Nothing worked the way we thought it should. Just as we shouldn’t make up the recipe with an Insta Pot, I can’t pretend I know more about a pandemic than the public health experts without also accepting that things won’t turn out well. 

3.   If I impatiently rush the process, I’ll get burned. 

When I am feeling particularly impatient about my dinner, I manually release the steam on the Insta Pot instead of allowing it to do its thing on its own. Inevitably, I end up getting burned by that steam, making a mess of the cabinets, and don’t enjoy the process. 

Ain’t that the truth. I know that if I push my way through this quarantine, bend the rules to fit my needs, and leave before I’m cleared, I’ll get burned. Or worse yet, I’ll burn someone else. I’ll end up feeling bad and making a mess of the world around me. 

For today, I’m gonna take out the Insta Pot, read the directions, manage my expectations, be realistic about what I can do and how long it will take, do all my prep work, actually FOLLOW the directions, and if the pressure gets high, I’m gonna do a slow release and not let it all out at once with a blast. I don’t want my paint to peel and I want to keep my environment in tact. 

And just like they spend hours every day thanking me for the dinners I cook, my family will  thank me for these lessons, as well. A girl can dream, can’t she?