Checking my privilege
I have long been aware of the privileges I have in this world simply because I am a white, Christian, American. That’s not to say I haven’t had struggles; it’s not to suggest that those things make my life easy. But I am aware that those things help shield me from some of life’s struggles, some of which can be caused by people’s biases and prejudices (whether those are unconscious or deliberate). I have also been aware of how my education and chosen profession – and even my chosen country of residence – provide me with privileges that not everyone has.
But now that we are in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic and the social distancing and self-isolation practices that go along with it, I am becoming more aware of how many more privileges I experience in this world – some of which put me in a better position than even people who are “higher” up the socio-economic scale than I am. And I have been thinking a lot about those privileges lately.
As others have noted: We may be navigating the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat. Indeed, some of us don’t even have the luxury of a boat in the first instance.
My boat? It’s not super swish, but it is stable and is likely to get me through the storm. Yes, I might be a bit battered by the time the storm passes, but I expect that I will have decent resources waiting for me when I reach dry land. (And with that, I am leaving the storm and boat analogy behind.)
I have realised that I have four broad areas of privilege that will help me survive the side effects of this pandemic (as in the non-health effects). These are my financial health, physical location, practical logistics, and my mental and emotional wellbeing. I’m outlining them below (from my perspective) as a way of documenting my own understanding of the COVID19 pandemic.
Financially, I began the lockdown with a bit of money in my savings account. Not a lot of money, but enough to get by. I also “lucked into a job offer” just before the lockdown which has meant that my savings have been growing – especially as I don’t have the expenditures of commuting costs or treating myself to shop-bought lunches. Not to mention the savings of not popping into the Morningside charity shops every few days to pick up deals on second-hand frocks.
Indeed, my personal finances have improved to the point that I can “pick up the slack” to cover my housemate’s loss of income due to the pandemic*. As a taxi driver, the lockdown has meant that his trade has all but crumbled but, thankfully, he’s managed to pick up work at a local garage whilst we wait it out.
My physical location and the space that it provides only adds to the luxury of my “boat”. I live in a country cottage with a nice little garden. The cottage is located on a rural, 250-acre estate that is made up of woodlands, meadows, and trails/paths, with a lovely little duck pond. Adjacent to me is another 250-acre estate (although it’s not quite as wild, it’s still a wonderful place for running). That means that I have ample space to run, wander, or explore outdoors without worrying about being able to keep a social distance from anyone who decides to come to the estate for fresh air. (That’s as close to a description as I can give in a public forum, but the point is that I have loads of people-free outdoor space.)
Inside the cottage, there are three bedrooms, a good-sized kitchen, a lovely living room with a wood stove, a hallway, and a bathroom with a large tub and a shower. I have full run of the place, except for my housemate’s bedroom which I have no need or desire to enter. Of the other two bedrooms, one is my bedroom and the other is my home office.
Yes. I have a home office**. A dedicated room for my work desk where I have set up extra screens, a docking station, and everything else I need to be productive during the working day. (There’s even a couch, should I wish to be productive in a more relaxing fashion!) That dedicated working space means that I can compartmentalise my “personal life” from my “working life” by simply closing the door to the office when I am done working for the day. Out of sight, out of mind!
There are also the practical logistics of lockdown to consider because money and space aren’t the whole story. Indeed, I know people on better incomes than me (mine is enough but is still modest) and who have larger houses than I do. But in some ways, my lack of family and childcare responsibilities gives me the edge***.
Whilst this sad fact has its own emotional struggles, it allows me to work more consistently than others. I can work when I want without having to worry about sharing my workspace or taking care of children. I don’t have to schedule meetings and deadlines around other responsibilities, and I can easily work a standard working week.
Not only that, but I have a dedicated shopper and errand-runner. That means that I can stay safe and not worry about my food supply. I also have the funds to pay for grocery deliveries and to have speciality deliveries for some of my favourite luxury foods.
It’s all great to have the funds, the space, and the logistics in place to help me through. But I have something else in my lockdown armoury: I have experience!
Yes, I have a great deal of experience with social isolation and solitude “thanks” to 11 years of widowhood. And that is key to maintaining my mental and emotional well-being. Again, this has its own struggles, but the experiences of isolation mean that loneliness is something I am used to, so I don’t have to navigate those emotions as much as others might need to.
Indeed, one of the things I keep hearing about is how much my family and friends – as well as people around the globe – are struggling with social distancing and self-isolation. Most people in this world (yes, even the introverts) are used to having regular interactions with other human beings, and generally with humans outside of their household. People get those interactions by meeting with friends, chatting with co-workers, serving customers, or any number of ways****. Now that those interactions have decreased or, in some cases, been eliminated, people are finding it hard to cope. And that breaks my heart more than you may know.
But back to me: I was accustomed to spending days or weeks at a time without face-to-face interactions before the lockdowns came into effect. Sure, it was extremely difficult at first. I can’t tell you the number of hours, days, and weeks that I have lost in tears due to loneliness and isolation. In the early days of widowhood, I dreaded nights and weekends because I knew I would be alone. But as the years passed by, I learned how to cope; I learned how to find peace in my solitude. And I even learned to embrace the loneliness. In fact, I think I embraced it too much because I do have slight moments of panic when I must socialise with others. (Mostly: There are a couple of friends that I actively look forward to seeing!)
People who know me or who follow me here on Just Frances or my other social media channels will know that I have developed silly rituals to keep myself company. I have learned how to entertain myself in a way that I find other people to be a disturbance in my life. And so, I am thriving (mostly) in lockdown because I get to have my silly little adventures on my own terms without worrying about anyone other than me.
Oh sure, I still get lonely and I am a bit bored with my own company at this point. But because I have already experienced the process of coming to terms with isolation and solitude, I am ahead of the game over most people.
So, that’s a snapshot of my pandemic privileges.
As I watch other people struggle with the economic and emotional fallout, I am even more aware of how incredibly lucky I am to be facing this pandemic with the privileges I have. I am not sharing this as a way of “bragging” because there isn’t anything to brag about. In fact, in some ways, I feel guilt at being in what must be an enviable situation for some people.
I am doing what I can to help others along the way. I am interacting more with people I know to be struggling with isolation. I am helping a couple of people with small bills, and even made a couple of purchases for people who were struggling to buy things. I am trying to share upbeat posts on my social media accounts. And I am trying my best to be grateful and kind to everyone who is struggling (and even those who aren’t struggling).
Whilst I know that I have worked hard in this life to have the things I have, I also know that good luck and blessed timings have helped me to get to this exact place at this exact time – despite all of the bad luck and cursed timings that have gone along with it. I hope that by being aware of my privilege, I will be able to notice the struggles that others might be facing right now. And I will do my best to use those privileges to help others. Because I don’t want to live in a world where the strong don’t help the weak. And right now, today, I have some strengths.
As for you, I know it can be hard to think about our lives in this way, but I urge you to think about the blessings and privileges you have right now. And if those blessings or privileges allow you to help someone else along the way, use them! After all, what better time than a global pandemic than to display your generosity and compassion – traits that we all possess in this world!
Be safe and stay healthy, my friends!
* This is only fair, as I did not pay rent during the first couple of years of my PhD studies. And I only paid a pittance during the second couple of years. So, we’re just evening out the books now!
** It’s not dedicated office space. This room also serves as a guest room (fold-out couch), a home gym, and a storage area. But the clutter bit is behind me, and I am positioned looking out the window into the front garden.
*** That’s not to say that I am “lucky” or happy to not have a husband and children. Indeed, that is a fact that causes me great sadness. But when it comes to productivity and time management, my lack of a family means I can prioritise my work at this crazy time. (Although I would rather struggle to find balance!)
**** Isolation is not a new thing. Many people have suffered from social isolation long before now – especially the elderly and disabled. I hope that society becomes more aware of this issue in a post-COVID19 world because my fear has long been that I will remain isolated for the rest of my life. These 11 years have been hard, and I dread to think how much worse it will get as I age… alone. (This is why I always talk to people at the bus stop: It might be my only conversation of the day, but it might also be their only conversation!)