Friday, July 24, 2020


About a year ago I wrote a piece called “Careless” , describing a situation in which I came face to face with the thoughtlessness of my own white privilege. 

The other day I opened my front door to a young man who was making the rounds telling people about the Streets for All initiative. It was a punishingly hot day. When we were done talking I said,

Try to stay cool! You shouldn’t be out in this heat!

And he looked back at me, tired, and said,

Ma’am, I have to make a living. 

This post seems, if anything, more painful today as I contemplate who is being forced to go out in the workplace while others are afforded the freedom to work from home. Essential workers: hospital workers, restaurant workers, sanitation workers, cleaning crews, transportation workers. A high percentage of these jobs are held by people who are Black or other people of color. 

They are working because they have no choice. They are put in the way of catastrophic illness because they have no choice. Of all the delivery people who have brought my Instacart orders to me since March, only one has been white. The rest: Black or Latinx.

Last year I wrote:
When I closed the door and went back to my comfy chair in my air conditioned house I felt a sense of shame. What an idiotic thing for me to say to someone who doesn’t have the privilege that I have. To admonish someone for doing something that they must do, whether it is physically wearing or not. I have choices. It’s very likely that his choices are far fewer. What was I thinking? That he was doing it for fun? 

Even now, as we meet six feet apart while wearing our masks, I find myself saying something like:

Stay safe! Or, Stay healthy!

And I go back inside my house where I have been self-isolating since March.

I am so grateful to have had a choice. I struggle with how our society so easily sacrifices those we think are somehow less valuable. When I see some hold forth online about how teachers should be considered “essential workers” I bristle, because I know what that means. 

It means that they want to place teachers in the category of people who have no choice. 

Let’s be honest, our culture honors with money, power, and autonomy the people who are high up enough on the food chain to be exempt from the dictates of who will be required risk their lives. We may say lovely things about essential workers but I dare say that those of us who are not have no wish to be one.

Last year’s post ended like this:

Anyway, if you see people out working in the heat, maybe you can think about how some people have fewer choices than you do and why they are the ones whose bodies are punished by extreme weather while yours is not.

With only a few changes, it remains excruciatingly true today:

Anyway, if you see people out working during the pandemic, maybe you can think about how some people have fewer choices than you do and why they are the ones whose bodies are being sacrificed to the coronavirus while yours is not.

Just a thought.

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