In the wave of a pandemic many are feeling the impact of shortages of essential supplies, anxiety over how this virus will impact their own health or those of a loved one, or even worry over the present and future impact on the economy. Yet, there is a need to pause and reflect on how existing institutional racism, classism and other forms of oppression are exacerbated particularly on specific populations.
Every day in and day out my work focuses on those that are unsheltered which are majority people of color. When the virus first came into the conversation one of the facets that is easy to miss is that those with preexisting conditions such as lung, kidney or immunodeficiencies are more susceptible to the virus. And when people experiencing homelessness are sick, the vast majority lack a primary care physician with which to seek care from. Not to mention, when orders such as shelter in place are activated those that are unsheltered lack the basic means to comply and minimize their exposure.
Further, when the shelter in place order is enacted and enforced by law enforcement the underlying problem of racial profiling takes on a new dimension. Black and Brown men going to work at essential services and business, mothers taking their children to the local school for food are criminalized for normal activities to meet their basic needs and those of our society. Race also comes into play when those of Chinese descent are harassed or blamed for the coronavirus, this is rooted in xenophobia and racism.
Class comes into play when considering who in society can work from home and those that cannot. Working from home is a privilege mostly benefitting knowledge workers, with higher education. Those that are hourly and in many service industries such as hotel workers, retail employees, and others are suffering from the loss of income. Many working families who were already struggling to pay their bills are especially under the strain. And for those that are obligated to continue working such as farm workers there are little to no protections to prevent community spread while they work sun up to sundown to put food on our tables.
What can we do during this time to address these inequalities:
1) Check in with a local nonprofit, does your local shelter need toilet paper, milk, additional canned goods? I bet they do! Now is the time to donate if you can.
2) Support artists, single moms, small businesses and anyone else you know might be struggling by buying a pack of diapers or their merchandise from an online store.
3) Stay civically engaged. Hold leaders accountable for how shelter in place orders are enforced in your community. Fill out the census! All of the groups mentioned in this blog post are typically undercounted. Now is the time to count!