1. How social inequality has been exposed by the corona crisis
New York, April 2020: on a Friday evening, Connor treats himself to Chinese food he had delivered to his apartment in Manhattan after a “hard” day of working from home while most of his neighbors escaped to their out-of-town weekend homes. At the same time, a bus driver called Jamal, who lives in the Bronx, is still working – without any protective gear keeping him safe from the virus he could easily be infected with. During his shift, he can’t get his mind of his brother who is in the hospital fighting against his Covid-19 infection.
The way I see it, this scenario emphasizes how the current coronavirus pandemic has exposed the two divided societies corresponding to class and race that have always existed in NYC. But I’m sure that New York isn’t the only example for a city divided in “wealth and privilege” and “struggle and poverty”. In addition, the global health crisis has not only revealed inequality issues regarding homelessness, but also in terms of gender and education.
What lockdown meant for most of us was to “stay at home”, but what if you don’t have a home? While we were complaining about being confined to our four walls, homeless people were left without help and exposed to police fines for being outside which they obviously can’t pay (Boffey, 2020). Due to closed restaurants and pubs, a new group emerged: the so-called “hospitality homeless”: these are people who had already had insecure jobs and unstable living arrangements before and have been pushed into homelessness by the current pandemic. They couldn’t put any money aside in the past and thus could no longer afford to pay their rent when they were fired. Unprepared for this situation, they have a heavy sense of desperation. To curb the spread of the virus, day centers, food banks, and soup kitchens have been closed leaving the homeless with no toilets, no place to shower, to wash their clothes or to get food (Gentleman, 2020). This means that their physical health is not only threatened by the coronavirus, but also their risk of starvation and mental health issues has strongly increased.
Reading through several articles, I realized that homelessness could affect anybody – not only the people we assume might have fallen off the edge of society (Perry, 2017). The sad thing about it? These aren’t stories someone invented. No, these are real people and honestly, I feel so sorry for them. So, what can we do to help them? My advice: be kind and show a little humanity and empathy. But obviously, this doesn’t solve the problem. Fortunately, the homeless are supplied with food by many volunteers. They are also provided with accommodation by hotel owners protecting them from the virus while giving them a rare feeling of family and safety (Gatenby et al., 2020). From my point of view, homeless services need to be deemed essential during times of crisis, and people working in the homeless sector should be provided with protective equipment. The issue of homelessness that has been laid bare by the pandemic points out that the policy of economic austerity has failed (Boffey, 2020), and that it’s the government’s responsibility to change the system from top to bottom.
Statements like “A virus doesn’t discriminate” [and] “We’re all in this together” (Pankhurst, 2020) present the global pandemic as a great equalizer, but appearances are deceptive. Instead of affecting both men and women equally, Covid-19 amplifies pre-existing gender inequalities and traditional power imbalances overlooked in better times. Whereas more men than women die directly from the virus, women are particularly hard hit by its socio-economic impacts. As women are more likely to work in the informal sector and have less access to unemployment benefits, they have to bear a considerable loss of income. Therefore, mental health problems are a key impact of Covid-19 for women due to unpaid care burdens and concerns about livelihood, healthcare, and food (Pankhurst, 2020).
The fact that women struggle physically, emotionally, and financially throughout the health crisis is revealed by the following true incidents. During lockdown, in Africa many young girls have become pregnant (often against their wishes) and thus will never be able to finish their education and achieve their goals in the future. Another issue that arises due to lockdown including little public transportation and a curfew at night is that women aren’t able to deliver their babies in the safest way possible. They are delivering them at home and only come into a clinic when complications occur after birth. Imagine living in a country where abuse is normalized. This is the case in Nigeria where gender-based violence has significantly increased since the pandemic started: many women are being raped or abused, but don’t want to share their stories to avoid the risk of being publicly shamed. I’m absolutely convinced that we need to change the mentality of accepting abuse as “normal”. No, abuse definitely mustn’t happen! Instead, we need to envision a future in which a woman is self-sufficient and able to live free of violence (Hodal and Chingono, 2020).
As if that wasn’t enough, the pandemic has intensified the lack of women’s voices in the news. Did you know that between March and April 2020 each female voice in news coverage of the crisis was drowned out by at least three male voices? Although women constitute the majority of all care workers, those who are given a voice in the pandemic are portrayed as victims or people affected by the disease. In addition, women are excluded from decision-making roles at national level. The supposed reason for this? Because of the “war framing” of the current crisis, men are better equipped to deal with this emergency (McVeigh, 2020). Seriously? As I see it, we desperately need to invest in women leaders at all levels in Covid-19 coordination and planning to represent the interests of the female gender as well.
When education moves online, poorer students fall behind: particularly affected are students from low-income families or people of color due to systemic racial discrimination. Even though this digital divide existed long before Covid-19, it’s now more visible than ever. Whereas students are being asked to work remotely, not every family has internet and a dedicated computer device for each student at home. For instance, imagine writing a paper on your mobile phone. While this is unthinkable for us, these circumstances are reality for a lot of students. Suddenly, education isn’t equally accessible for everyone. Instead, wealthier families can guarantee better education for their children, whereas poorer students are extremely disadvantaged which will potentially have an impact on their future career prospects. How can we bridge the gap between economic inequities in times of online learning? In my opinion, public schools or universities should implement a strategy using their assigned resources to build up a pool of laptops and loan them to students needing one to work properly. Additionally, internet service providers need to expand their low-cost services to ensure generally affordable broadband access (Floberg, 2020).
While Connor represents white people who are wealthy and privileged, Jamal embodies poorer people of color who are struggling and have no choice but to expose themselves to the risk of a Covid-19 infection. Keep in mind that this is just a scenario I came up with to illustrate the two societies existing in NYC – but these can be found all over the world, at any place, anytime. However, despite its negative impacts, we can see the corona crisis also as a chance for change as it has raised awareness for the social injustice that has already existed before the pandemic but has simply been ignored or considered not severe enough to take care of. Is there any chance that the pandemic finally woke us up? Personally, I strongly hope that the world that ultimately emerges after the crisis will be more just and less discriminatory.
2. Escapism – finding nourishment instead of identifying poison
“I’ll be there for you”: when I hear the title melody of my favorite sitcom Friends I really feel at home. I bet you also have that one show you turn to when you need distraction from challenging periods or a nostalgic reminder of another, simpler time (Babalola et al., 2020). For me, lockdown provides the perfect opportunity to rewatch Friends which serves as a balance between escapism and emotional realism. Believe it or not, but watching this series represents my happy place during this massive global crisis and brings a smile to my face. Friends gives me a warm feeling of comfort and joy as well as a reason to laugh that I desperately need to alleviate the darkness of the world (obviously, laughing makes you feel better and cheers you up). Generally, joy lies within our connections and social contacts that are mostly taken away from us in times of social distancing. Therefore, we love hanging out with the characters of a show who are dealing with everyday problems. I would even go as far as to say that series are therapy. They are just what we need to help us through these hard times.
If you don’t want to be stuck in the entertainment of the past, you can explore the endless stream of new shows. Thus, it’s no surprise that the streaming service Netflix profits strongly from the corona crisis. Nevertheless, newer streaming services like Disney Plus with a low monthly cost and eager marketing intensify the competition and take away potential subscribers. Since parents look for ways to entertain their homebound children, the pandemic has most likely helped Disney Plus keep existing subscribers and attract new ones (Barnes, 2020).
Nostalgia being understood as a wishful longing for the past also plays an essential role during quarantine. As social isolation has pulled us out of our adult life, we’ve been sent into a state strangely reminding of childhood which was the last time we were confined to our bedroom with our free will restricted by a “higher authority” (our parents). This strong nostalgic desire makes many people play computer games with an immersive experience they were obsessed with as a child. In quarantine when you can’t go anywhere, this makes you feel far away. Apart from that, it’s an attempt to gain control over your surroundings considering the disappointments of reality (Hess, 2020).
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