Before Compaining About COVID-19 Inconveniences, Check Your Privilege

This Quarantine Brings All The Karens To The Yard

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Since coronavirus has flipped our world inside-out, a number of complaints have popped up in my social media feeds that are, as my 14-year-old son says, “so cringy.” Listen. I get it. This is hard, and we all need to vent a little sometimes. But when it comes to sharing your feelings about COVID-19’s effect on your life, there is also something to be said for personal awareness, as well as awareness of one’s audience.

Am I suggesting no one vent their emotions at all on social media? Of course not. I’m just saying that, for some people, a little extra self-awareness may be in order.

When people (mostly wealthy white women) who live a life steeped in privilege complain about the comparatively minor life inconveniences they are enduring as a result of COVID-19, it gives everyone around them secondhand embarrassment. Like my son says: Cringe.

An example of this on a larger scale is Ellen’s recent YouTube video in which she compared social distancing — in her massive LA mansion — to being in jail. And before you @ us with “it was a joke,” um, duh. It was supposed to come off as satirical, yes, we know that, and we absolutely “get” the joke, but it still came off as tone-deaf. Because, not only is Ellen’s house, well, this…

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…but there are people in actual prison who are at heightened risk of contracting coronavirus because the close quarters make social distancing next to impossible. There are literally an infinite number of other jokes Ellen could have made. That one wasn’t it.

It’s not just rich and famous people who can be painfully insensitive. I’ve seen several people complaining about expensive concerts they were supposed to attend that got cancelled. I’m an orchestra musician myself, and hundreds of my coworkers just had their entire livelihood wiped out. Gigging was their main source of income, and it’s just… gone, poof, like the world’s worst magic trick. Forgive me if I don’t take my violin out of its case to play you a sad, sad song about how you had to put your fancy night at the theater on hold, Janet. I’m worried about the performers (who, ironically, often can’t afford to attend the kinds of shows they make their living performing in), not you.

Oh, and your Bahamas vacation got cancelled and you’re “so frustrated,” and “this just completely sucks”? Again, the staff at every hotel, theme park, and basically every tourist destination anywhere just had their income, which was probably barely a living wage to begin with, hacked to almost nothing or maybe to actually nothing. They’re worried about how to pay their WiFi, and you’re mad about postponing your vacation? That’s not a good look, hon.

And as for the folks who took the vacation anyway after the travel restrictions went into effect because I guess the rules don’t apply to you and your family, and isn’t it nice to have all that room to stretch your legs in the plane since it’s fucking empty? You were smart not to post pictures of that trip, but we still know you went, and we are very disappointed in you.

Perhaps the most egregious complaints are the ones from parents about the jobs their kids’ teachers are doing. They’re either assigning too much work or not enough, or the online programs they’re using suck. Seriously? Teachers are motherfucking heroes right now. Without any forewarning whatsoever, and many of them without a chance to say goodbye to their students because the pandemic hit during spring break, they had to instantly learn and organize an entirely new system of learning. They still have to accommodate students with 504s and IEPs, and many had to coordinate getting laptops or other learning devices to families in need and make sure they had internet access so they could learn. Don’t fucking come for teachers, Cheryl. Just don’t. Teachers have immunity.

Am I being a little harsh? Maybe. Judgmental? I suppose so. I’ll own it. But, I’m sorry, when I see these whiny posts from folks whose lives are otherwise exploding with privilege, I can’t help but think about: My friends who’ve spent the last week learning how to navigate the unemployment system. My friend whose spouse is sick with cancer and is terrified COVID-19 will enter their home, even though she’s taken every precaution. The households with two essential worker breadwinners who feel compelled to hand over their kids to a friend or family member indefinitely because the risk of infecting them is too great. The single parents who still have to work, but don’t have a safe place to put their kids while they’re working. The elderly folks in nursing homes who are no longer allowed face-to-face visits with loved ones.

The folks in the local Facebook aid group I’m in who reach out, timid and embarrassed, to ask for the $180 they need to make ends meet this month, and who literally cry with gratitude when the group meets their need within the hour. Healthcare workers. Grocery store cashiers. Pharmacists. Public transit operators. LGBTQ teens trapped in unaffirming households. Abuse victims isolated at home with their abusers. Addicts who have been pressed to the outermost limits of their willpower.

Oh, and the people who are actually dying of COVID-19. Their families.

Let me be completely clear that I am not suggesting that no one should mention that they’re struggling. What we’re experiencing right now is a new and painful normal, and it is an adjustment for us all. COVID-19 is affecting everyone, and everyone has a right to some roller coaster feelings. I myself cry probably once per hour, whiplashed between my disgust and wonderment at the very worst and the very best of humanity. But there is a way to express sadness, frustration, and overwhelm without sounding clueless and insensitive.

I have plenty of friends whose vacations and tickets got cancelled, whose dance classes and recitals stopped mid-season, whose senior kids are legitimately grieving over the many high school “lasts” they have lost and will never get back. My son’s eighth grade graduation trip was cancelled and he likely won’t see many of his friends who are splintering off after middle school to attend different high schools. These are real, tangible losses, and they honestly suck.

And yet, many of these friends of mine who experienced these disappointments either didn’t mention it all on social media or, if they did, they went out of their way to acknowledge their privilege in the process. They recognize that their disappointment and stress is not the same as a healthcare worker on the front lines wearing the same N-95 mask for days on end or someone who is in a life-or-death battle with the disease. They understand that the sacrifices they have made, and will continue to make, are for those people. For all of us.

We are all under stress during this time. We are all struggling to some degree or another. But it’s an objective fact that some are suffering far more than others. People are literally dying, and if you live a life so steeped in privilege that you’re unable to understand why your public whining about your moderate, temporary discomfort doesn’t elicit a groundswell of sympathy from the folks in your newsfeed, then maybe your time spent in quarantine would best be spent on self-reflection.