Perhaps later I will expand on this, but it is a thought stream worth considering during a strange time of overwhelming our supply chain and medical system, and of the stock market crashing due to the middle class staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic:
-First of all, all of the “lower” social classes are the ones most exploited, yet they are the ones keeping food and supplies streaming to the people who have any means to access them at this time. Without the people the most kicked and looked down upon risking their well-being for a hourly wage right now, the rest of us would starve, perhaps save for the farmers and survivalists. Many many many of these people are black and brown folks, and many of these people are women.
-The capitalist system is a direct descendent of imperialism and slavery. I am not the first to recognize this, not by a long shot, and I wish I had names to give credit to, but I don’t have them memorized. Other scholars, and particularly black female scholars, have pointed out this truth extensively. Here it is: when Imperialism (literally violently stealing another nation’s lands) became taboo, as did slavery, the exploitative class had to find a new way to benefit unethically from the labor of others. Born was capitalism, where the people supplying the labor upon which all further profit is derived, reap the least benefit from their own hard work. Those who sit on top and do the least and think themselves superior tend to egregiously benefit from the exploited labors of others. The slaves in this model are those who are making sweatshop wages in unsafe conditions, as well as the working poor, underclass, lower class and to an extent lower middle class. The upper class is disproportionately rewarded financially for little contribution- it is typically just luck of birth that stations them where they are on top.
– What about the American Dream? It’s not real. But it is an attractive carrot to dangle in front of the tired, hardworking people’s noses, keeping them actively engage in a system that exploits them and spends all of their time and energy on another’s profits and not on what is truly meaningful to them as a human. The few stories of those that “made it” and achieved upward mobility are passed around as fuel, but statistically very few will actually make it.
-What does this have to do with mental health and the current pandemic? Our mental health is impacted by the conscious and unconscious beliefs we develop, which are influenced by our society. The above circumstances keep us trapped in an economy where so few of us can afford to miss work for any valid reasons, which strains us mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. It is a form of oppression. Our culture of powering through illness is dysfunctional; teaching us to feel more worthy for our “strength”, when it is simply a lack of quality of life on our part to be mandated to work through illness. This dysfunctional cultural value directly contributes to the spread of this insidious virus which has and will kill many beloved people in the coming weeks.
– Please consider that the vast majority of you reading this will reap little benefit from “saving the economy” by rushing back to work sooner than epidemiologists recommend. Yes, small business owners would be relieved, but other than that there is little personal benefit for most of us compared to what it means for those on top who will likely not leave their homes at the same time. Yet what will happen is that more people will spread and catch this virus, particularly of all of the lower classes, and the medical system in more cities will be overwhelmed and ineffective, and more human beings will needlessly die.
– The lack of respect and lack of value of our elders, disabled, and immunocompromised neighbors is horrifying. If you catch yourself saying “just” the elderly are dying, fix it. These are people, they matter, and their lives are worth more than recklessly cutting them short even if they don’t have as many potential years ahead as others. What kind of barbaric society are we living in that we simply don’t care if one or two million of our citizens are wiped out by this illness in a couple months? Remember this: many of those succumbing to novel coronavirus are younger and cancer survivors too. Their immune systems are compromised after the treatments they endured to save their lives and be here with their loved ones. It’s not “just” the elderly and the folks with autoimmune issues. Don’t be so quick to act like normal when a few months of a more thoughtful and simple lifestyle can save the lives of many.
– For those of us not working in essential roles and with the privilege to stay home should be at home as much as possible (which is for every purpose but some exercise far away from others or purchasing food/supplies). Let’s use this time and privilege in part to think about who we are and where we are, and how we can be a better neighbor to others from now on. How can we care about the needs and situations of others who don’t look or believe like us, but feel and love and value life like us? Let’s start perhaps by reexamining our American values, their historic source, the roots of this nation in the exploitation of African, Native, Latinx, and Asian people. Let’s look at the cost of White privileges and hyperindividualism on non-white folx, as well as the cost of ableism, heterosexism, and other forms of xenophobia. Let’s be better ancestors for having this time of drawing inward- into our homes, families, and selves. There is a lot that is wrong in this world, and naming that is important to changing it. Focus on what is truly right, intersectional, ethical, and inclusive in this world, but please don’t turn a blind eye to what is wrong just because it may or may not affect you or people who look like you.