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Musings on Pandemic Privilege

Quote from author Ellen Urbani

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege lately.  I have this platform through PsychCentral that allows me to air my views to others fortunate enough to have internet access and devices to read on. I can try to use my privilege to help others with less of it.

On a blog like this one, it’s easy to fall back on confirmation bias and not challenge anyone. After all, this is an advocacy blog for a group of people with an acknowledged disadvantage. Because I have this platform, though, I can incite people to action. I can urge others who have a bit of privilege in one area or another to use their power to help those who don’t have the same leverage.

The notion of privilege really hit home with me about 3 years ago. It was a few months after Charleena Lyles was shot by police after calling for help. When the police arrived, she ran outside in her pajamas, expecting to run into the arms of an officer who would shield her from her abuser and tell her everything was going to be all right. Instead, she was shot down on her own front walk by the people she summoned to protect her.

That October night when I had my awakening, I was home alone in my condo when a man knocked on my door at 11:00 PM. I was still up finishing a TV movie—I’m usually in bed by 10:30. Nobody legit would be knocking on my door at that hour. I looked out the peep hole, my hand on my phone with 9 and 1 already dialed. There was a short, light-skinned man with a huge Afro, wearing shorts and a basketball tank top on this cold, rainy fall night. He called out, “Let me in, please.”

I shouted back, “Who are you and what do you want?”

“Just open the door!” and he grabbed the door handle.

I dialed the 1.

The man was long gone by the time the police arrived. They cruised the neighborhood every hour all night, making sure he didn’t come back. In retrospect, I realize he was probably a guest of my drug-involved neighbor and was knocking on the wrong door. I was terrified, though, and hadn’t thought of anything logical.

I realized that I had taken it completely for granted that the police would protect me. They would look at me, a white woman with graying hair, and see someone presumed worthy of their protection. If the man had gotten inside and I had run out when the police arrived, I would have run into waiting arms and “It’s okay, we’ve got you.” As you may have surmised from her name, or remembered from the news story, Charleena Lyles was African-American, in her 30s with young children. She was afraid too, and she did what we are trained to do from early childhood when we are threatened—she called the police.

Because of the color of my skin and hair, and my address, I was in zero danger of the same thing happening to me that happened to Ms. Lyles. I sank to the floor, my back against the locked front door, and absorbed what I suddenly understood.

This pandemic has shined a light on other privilege I enjoy. This is not to say I have it easy, not by a long shot, but I have some advantages.

I have a solid support network. I have good relationships with my family, and friends that make me feel a bit awed that they consider me part of their group. Some of that is earned through volunteering and community engagement, and some is just dumb luck that I happened to cross paths with amazing people and gain a foothold in their lives. One of them is author Ellen Urbani, whose quote provides today’s cover graphic.

I also have great relationships with my neighbors; we check on one another regularly to make sure no one falls ill without anyone knowing. We socialize at appropriate distance and often sit out on widely spaced chairs in the evening, eating our own food from our own dishes as we catch up on one another’s news.

Many people don’t have that kind of social access during the pandemic and it’s much more stressful for them.

Living alone is an advantage, in my opinion. After I get inside and do my ritual hand wash to remove any germs I might have picked up in the outside world, I’m in a free zone. It’s an extra layer of protection against exposure. The cats are wonderful company and they don’t get on my nerves.

I also have some financial privilege. It’s interesting to suddenly see it that way after years of hovering near the poverty line. My work is unaffected by the pandemic. I’ve already worked at home for 10 years, so there’s no adjustment needed there. This last week, I had too much work. I wasn’t able to keep up with my self-care routine and I felt stressed both physically and emotionally. But my bills are getting paid and I’m not complaining about that.

And while I have been missing out on a lot of my regular medical care, I was able to get two massages recently, so I’m better off than I was 3 weeks ago.

I know people who have had the virus and recovered. No one I love has died from it so far. I am in a position to understand that the virus is real and not to be messed with, but I haven’t had anyone torn from my life by it either.

All this adds up to feeling like the pandemic is affecting me less than other people, so far. In the American battle for racial equality, I hear leaders of people of color urging white people to use their privilege to dismantle the systems we benefit from. I’ve thought a lot about what that means, looking for opportunities to take effective action. Now, in the pandemic, I have the duty to speak out on behalf of vulnerable people. Which brings me to another point about the protesters I started in on last week.

I understand that there are people who have been made food-insecure by this. I get that people are losing their businesses. I feel for the woman who wrote on Nextdoor.com, “What about my freedom to be with my dying father?” I would tell her, though, that it’s not government oppression that is keeping her out of the care facility where her father is, it’s a deadly virus. For a lot of people, being barred from those facilities gives them an “out.” There’s no choice to be made whether or not to risk your life to be with a dying loved one, it’s out of your hands. And the people taking care of that woman’s father have the right not to be re-exposed when she’s admitted 10 days later. Her pain is real, but no one is to blame for it. It’s tragic, but it’s not oppression.

The people who are legitimately hurt by the pandemic are not the ones who are protesting. If they’re ranting about haircuts and manicures, they can afford those things. They’re not standing up for the little guy. They’re not in it for their neighbors who lost their restaurant, they’re in it because they’re mad that they can’t eat out.

My biggest problem with the protesters is not in their message, but in their delivery. When you cloak your message in ugliness and intimidation, you lose all credibility. Even more than their message, I reject the people delivering it. Guns express hostility, not persuasion. And there is no redeeming value in any person who harasses a nurse trying to go to work. I wish I could deport those bullies to an island where they could live out their Lord of the Flies fantasy without hurting any of us.

John Pavlovitz wrote about another aspect of the Michigan protests, how only white people could get away with walking around the state capitol with guns and screaming in the faces of police officers. The privilege of these people is staggering, and yet they claim to be oppressed. They could put down their guns and use their voices to demand better protection for small businesses and working people during this time, but instead they’re using their power to be complete asshats.

As a member of, and a voice for, the vulnerable population, I decry these tactics. I have some pandemic privilege. I can use it to surf through this time relatively unscathed, or I can put my voice to work on behalf of the people who are just trying to survive long enough to be vaccinated.

I will continue to stay home as much as I can, take as few trips into public places as I can get away with, and I won’t go to the concerts I love, even if Annie Lennox comes to town. I will choose to protect myself and the people I love. I will continue to speak out against the bullies who want their way at any cost. If you are able to, please join me.

And to our government leaders, it is never unseemly to set a good example and show regard for other people. Put on the damn mask.

Musings on Pandemic Privilege


Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.


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APA Reference
, . (2020). Musings on Pandemic Privilege. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/hidden-disabilities/2020/05/musings-on-pandemic-privilege/

 

Last updated: 16 May 2020
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