Check your privilege

Coronavirus has made the privilege gap in America more apparent

Emily DiSalvo, Arts & Life Editor

Coping with the coronavirus is a skill set of the privileged.

While it has been widely noted that the coronavirus disproportionately affects communities of color, this is just one way that the coronavirus batters those with less privilege.

Mike Clement

It is really easy for a family of privilege to transition to online learning, as much as they might complain. They have a strong Wi-Fi connection. They probably have multiple laptop computers, several pairs of headphones and tons of school supplies like scissors and white boards that would normally be accessible at school.

But for some families, the Wi-Fi is spotty, or nonexistent. There might be one computer for a family of many kids, and they might be competing for time to attend Zoom meetings with teachers and classmates. They might be using huge adult scissors to practice fine motor skills. In short, these less privileged families are not experiencing the same education as the privileged family across town that has access to all of these things.

For a family of privilege, working from home is annoying. Maybe kids and dogs serve as a distraction. But the income is steady. The atmosphere is safe.

For less fortunate families, the jobs are gone. For others, the parents work at a grocery store or a delivery warehouse where they are exposed to other people all day before returning home. Others don’t have paid time off and can’t afford to take time away even if they are sick. Some kids have to go to daycare where they are exposed to other kids and germs despite the best efforts of daycare employees.

Privilege exists in the prisons too. On top of the obvious issue that people in prison do not have the luxury of social distancing, some prisons have been late to provide the necessary healthcare to prisoners. At Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas, prisoners rioted over the lack of healthcare at a facility that has over 700 members who have tested positive for coronavirus out of a population of 1,700 inmates, 42% of the population.

Privilege is especially evident when we watch the horrifying video of these prisoners rioting, but we learn white-collar criminals are being released from prison, allowed to serve from home. How are we choosing which lives are worth protecting? Clearly the percentage of cases in the prisons is much higher than in America as a whole. Aren’t prisoners humans too?

Attorney General William Barr sent prisons a two-page memo, according to Vox, that outlined which prisoners would be prioritized for release. These included non-violent prisoners who were unlikely to be repeat offenders. But according to the Marshall Project, the computer rating system that decides which prisoners can be released tends to favor the white-collar criminals who are disproportionately white.

Even people in nursing homes lack the privilege that other families have. Families of privilege are able to pay hefty amounts to have at-home care for aging parents and family members. Those families incapable of caring for an aging relative, for physical or financial reasons, may opt for nursing home care which seems more and more like a coronavirus death sentence each day.

Access to food is also divided along class lines. Privileged families will complain about wearing a mask or following specific regulations in the grocery store, but families without privilege can’t afford to go to the grocery store at all. Maybe they don’t have a car and previously relied on public transportation which is now deemed risky. Maybe they don’t have a mask.

The coronavirus has exposed American privilege in crystal clear terms. It’s good and fun to talk about the seamless transition to at-home school unless you’re a college student who doesn’t have a home to go back to. It’s easy to talk about social distancing when you live in a house but for those in crowded housing projects, it can be next to impossible.

If you are a person of privilege, complain. It’s OK. You miss your friends and your school and your old life. That is OK. But then, check your privilege.

Do you have access to a grocery store? A laptop? A remote job? You are lucky. America has been a nation of privilege for a long time. It’s always been the case that people from some neighborhoods were more equipped with tools to be successful — this is an unfair fact of society that lawmakers must work to reverse. However, coronavirus had made this divide deeper and more blatant.

I can just hope that one positive effect of coronavirus is that one day we may learn to bridge this gap.