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Understanding Privilege in the Age of Covid-19

Life as we know it is clearly no longer. 

Families are in forced lockdown together, schools are shut down, and people are working from home. Unfortunately, there is no clear end in sight. While some are distraught by losing time at their respective universities or having to miss out on monumental events, it is crucial to acknowledge the privilege one has during a time like this. 

Privilege refers to the advantages some may have over others based on their race, gender, identity, religion, socio-economic status, and more. Some people are born into privilege, others grow to obtain it. Being able to recognize one’s privilege is extremely important in understanding the world around us. It also attempts to acknowledge how marginalized people are affected by certain things in extremely disproportionate ways. 

The coronavirus pandemic has mandated a global shutdown, forcing people to return to their homes and to practice social distancing in order to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus. While some are fortunate enough to return to their homes with food on the tables and a bed to sleep in, others are not so lucky. 

In 2018, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that 553,830 Americans were homeless. Now with the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing is not an option for America’s homeless population: “People can’t empathize with what it truly means... to live in a too-small space with too many people, to not have enough money to buy food for a long duration or anywhere to store it if they did.”

As well as being unable to afford social distancing, homeless populations are much more prone to illness, making them more vulnerable to a virus like Covid-19. Emma Grey Ellis writes: “The conditions of homelessness would leave a healthy person vulnerable to catching a disease like Covid-19, and unhoused people tend not to be healthy…  unhoused people disproportionately suffer from lung disease, heart disease, hypertension, and cancer, which are all risk factors for experiencing Covid-19’s more severe and deadly symptoms.”

Social distancing is a privilege. To be able to afford homemade fresh meals every night and a room that separates you from your family is a privilege. To be able to socially distance from others in your city or neighborhood is a privilege. To maintain 6 feet away from anyone who could be sick, that is a privilege.  

Aside from acknowledging privilege within our global economy, it is crucial to understand white privilege, always. 

Shit You Should Care About on Instagram quotes: “White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it means your skin tone isn’t one of the things making it harder.” White people do not have to wake up in the morning worrying about being pulled over for their skin color, they are not oppressed by the corrupt system that judges based on race. 

The Economic Policy Institute explained that “less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers are able to work from home.” For those who cannot work at home, they need to continue working and not socially distancing, a privilege they do not have the luxury of ‘enjoying.’

Long-standing systemic oppression of people of color, unfortunately, continues to reign to this day - as we see that the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting people of color at alarmingly higher rates than white people. Our national economic and health institutions cater to the privileged and people of color are failing to receive the equitable care they need and deserve, especially in such an unprecedented time. 

In the unknown future that will become the “new normal,” many people will be unable to sustainably join the real world again until a  vaccine becomes available or the risk of contracting the Coronavirus becomes close to impossible. This applies to those with underlying health issues, compromised immune systems, and those in the at-risk age population. 

While universities are considering safe and sustainable ways to bring students back to college campuses in the fall, they must account for students who are immunocompromised or students who lack the privilege to continue remote learning. 

UW-Madison’s Chancellor Rebecca Blank released the following statement: “...some (students who want to pursue their studies and who can’t be here) will be students with underlying health conditions that make it important that they stay in a more isolated environment…”

It is crucial to note that universities shut down quickly, giving extremely short term notice to all the students and staff, as well as not providing immediate resources for those who cannot afford to travel home or to pay for online learning tools. 

It is a socio-economic luxury and privilege to be able to safely travel home and socially distance, as well as continue living a sustainable and ‘normal’ lifestyle. 

Along with universities, other vital institutions, like healthcare and government, must come up with ways to ease into the “new normal,” while simultaneously accommodating and ensuring the safety of all populations.

Understanding the privilege that comes with social distancing, quarantining, and the world’s response to the virus is crucial in fighting these alarming disparities. Aside from recognizing one’s privilege, what can you do with it?

  • Teach and educate yourself and others on their privilege.
  • Listen to marginalized communities and use your privileged platform to amplify the issues and the message.
  • Find ways in your local community to assist those who are unable to socially distance, or for those who cannot risk leaving their homes for essentials. 
    • Offer to provide childcare for families with essential working parents.
    • Consider working for Grubhub, Doordash, InstaCart, or other food delivery services.
  • If you are privileged enough to be social distancing and quarantining, PLEASE DO SO! Stay home for those who can’t. 
  • Confront those abusing their privilege, and fight injustices based on the oppression of marginalized communities! 

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