The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is not and will never be the great equalizer. At this point in time, many of us are aware that any crisis, particularly the one we are facing now, will not be the cause of inequities that already exist, but instead a magnifier that highlights our inequitable structures. Of course people all over the world are being impacted by COVID-19, but it’s unfair to say that we’re all going through the same thing. This isn’t to play the “who’s got it worse” game, but instead to offer a perspective that challenges us to do better. To that end, I dare not say I wish for things to go back to how they used to be without realizing that many people are in a crisis almost everyday. Before the pandemic the rich were getting richer, health inequities persisted, and we continued to set up future generations for failure. But when a crisis happens, it amplifies the struggles of many people and shows how certain structures, policies, and cultural beliefs aren’t sustainable. We now have more than 16 million people unemployed, parents struggling to support their children who are already at a disadvantage, and makeshift morgues being created overnight in neighborhoods.
So what should we do? Well first of all being and doing better doesn’t look like asking convicted inmates to dig up burial sites to receive $6/hour– even if that’s considered a lot of money for them. It also doesn’t look like putting the lives of your essential employees in danger just because you need them to work. This type of action shows us how much we’ve accepted the deep-rooted idea that people are disposable. That is to say, certain people only begin to matter when we’re all in trouble. We see how this idea is manifesting based on who our essential employees are, or better yet who we consider essential employees. For most of us, doctors and nurses are the first people who come to mind when we think of essential workers. However many of us don’t automatically think of waste collectors, delivery drivers, gig workers, front clerks at the grocery store, or mail carriers as essential. While I’m grateful for the services being provided by those who work in consumer-facing jobs, I also know that many people have no choice but to work. According to economists, Black and Latinx populations are less likely to work from home since they are “more likely to work in lower-paid, consumer-facing service jobs that limit their ability to work remotely.” We also know that many people within the Black and Latinx community are being affected by the virus, and that African Americans are dying at disproportionate rates from COVID-19. This is truly a set up for a disaster that has been waiting to happen.
If and when things do begin to go back to “normal” we must make an important choice: we either restructure the way we do things for the better for everyone, or we accept the fact that we don’t care about humanity. There’s really no in between here. A virus shouldn’t be the only thing that stops us from our day to day to make us realize the equal value of everyone. And even when we are stopped, what we are slowly realizing is that we still only value certain lives or add value to lives that are helping us get through this pandemic. At what point do we accept the fact that we are connected in deeper and more meaningful ways than we realize? What harms me ultimately harms others, and vice versa. If this moment isn’t proof, I don’t know what is.
So you see, I don’t want us to go back to how things used to be if it means that a certain portion of humanity will still suffer. We cannot continue to have amnesia everytime we experience something horrific. It’s like when people forget that the very foundation of our institutions and current laws were rooted in racist, sexist, and classist ideologies that still harm us until this day. It’s not enough to be an agent of change for a day or one year. We must live, eat, and breathe equity as if we have no other choice, because technically we don’t.