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.