Pandemic Privilege — Do You Have It?

Apr 28, 2020

Hands up if this is your first pandemic.

It’s certainly the first that springs to my mind, because before COVID-19, the government hasn't asked that I stay inside. 

And so, it kind of makes sense that many people have their own takes on how to cope. Some people suggest activity boards, where kids can choose from a list of entertaining options. Others suggest baking as a family.

It all sounds wonderful and fun. And I encourage everyone to do what they can to feel happy and safe and healthy right now.

But a lot of the offerings you’ll read online come from a narrow lens. It’s very often coming from a place of extreme privilege. It’s rarely inclusive.

If you're looking to see how communities are spreading #COVIDKindess, check out some examples here.

How ideas are formed

Many tips are rolling in from people with backyards and acreage, not families living in small apartments or places with limited to no access to green space. Spaces, in fact, that make physical distancing rather difficult.

They are coming from people who have a nicely appointed window nook on which to sit and read a book. They aren’t coming from people who rely on a physical library to pore over the work of fantastic children’s authors.

And a quick and easy suggestion may be for families to read books digitally (not a bad tip!), but that’s not possible for many — not every family has a computer, a tablet, an e-reader or a smart phone. They also may not have printers for work sheets, or paper and pens. They don’t have a bulging craft shelf, cupboard or storage unit.

"These can be hard realities to accept, especially during a pandemic, but I do think they're worth considering."

Moreover, helpful suggestions are often coming from people who can afford to stockpile necessities — people who have pantries that are buckling under the strain of large format bags of flour, chocolate chips and sugar, toilet paper and Lysol wipes. “It’s a great time to teach kids how to bake, it doubles as a math lesson” some might say. A great suggestion and thought, to be sure, and if the means exist for you to do so, I think you should if you want to. But for every stockpile of bread in every Canadian home, there’s a home not sitting down to bread tonight.

Widespread ideas aren’t coming from people who rely on food banks, or who only buy food and diapers when their paycheque comes through — at which point someone has already blitzed through their local grocery store, baring the shelves of yeast, flour and any other so-called essential items. Even if they wanted to use flour, they can’t.

These can be hard realities to accept, especially during a pandemic, but I do think they're worth considering.

Read about how a couple of emergency doctor parents are protecting their kids here.

Expectation versus Reality

How does a family follow a list of tips when they have creditors hassling them by phone multiple times a day?

It's easier to have a bounty of ideas when there are cupboards and car trunks full of goods. Or when there are Costco memberships. Or someone at home who makes it easier to wait in line at the grocery store for an hour or two.

And of course you’re allowed to have a Costco membership, and a loving partner at home — that’s not the point. I’m merely painting a picture of my first pandemic.

And CBC Parents isn’t immune to this privilege, I know. We do our absolute best and I am very proud of what we do every day, but you will find “simple” tips from parents. They may seem simple, but they are very often not free. Because almost nothing is.

"It's easier to have a bounty of ideas when there are cupboards and car trunks full of goods. Or when there are Costco memberships."

Even craft glue is an expense, but not an accessible one if you’re nickel-and-diming your way to a fresh pack of toilet paper.

Will we stop offering tips? No.

But we do try to reach as many Canadians as possible, and encourage everyone who can to pitch us to write about their unique Canadian parenting experience.

Because parents across Canada have craft ideas and recipe ideas and ideas on how to be more mindful. They have stories to tell.

And in times like these, people just want to see everyone getting through this well. And safely. And healthily.

Words Matter More Than Ever

In my life, I’ve lived well below the poverty line. I’ve gone hungry for days and days. I became sick time and again because I didn’t have enough to eat. 

If I ever were to read that I should “see the bright side” and “do restorative yoga” as a balm to tricky times, I would have cried. I would have felt so alone. I would have felt like a complete failure — like Darwin declared me the first to die.

In 2020, many of us feel very alone. Many of us are alone.

"People will at one point or another be looking for a shortcut, especially now."

I’m not saying to stop offering suggestions, because many still want suggestions. I know I want to know how you made an oh-so-simple, you-wouldn’t-believe-how-easy-it-is Ina Garten recipe. Or the value of straining your Greek yogurt in cheesecloth before making a homemade tzatziki. There will always be an audience for hacks, tips and tricks. People will at one point or another be looking for a shortcut, especially now.

But I do think it’s time to reassess the vocabulary of our pandemic. It’s a good time to think about what “easy” and “affordable” mean. Because yes, a recipe with a few ingredients sure does sound easy to make, but what if you don’t have the tools to make it — or the money? Then the tasks go from quick and easy to hard or impossible.

There’s also this illusion of activities being “time-killers” but this excludes many families with neurodiverse kids, who are without the programs that help them every day. That responsibility is now on their parents, who can’t just “set it and forget it.”

And yes, reading is fundamental. And people through the ages have always found salvation in literature. But: knowledge is free at the library for a reason, because the library is a great unifier. It offers access to people who don’t have access. And right now, that access is limited to people with technology.

"...I can almost guarantee that the money families receive isn’t going toward washi tape, organic vegetable deliveries and a Nintendo Switch."

To me, it feels like this is a period of increased bouts of privilege, and I think it’s mostly coming from a really great place. A place where everyone wants to see everyone thrive despite adversity. Even I have rounded up podcasts and TV shows for people to listen to and watch! And suggested this salad, which I still think everyone will like.

But I think it’s important to remember that my pandemic isn’t your pandemic. And your pandemic isn’t theirs, either.

It’s nice to say we’re “better together” and “in this together” but well-intended words fall flat when the language of our pandemic seems to, at least to me, serve the people who have the most resources.

Relief — Giving and Receiving

And while government relief will certainly help bolster people to a certain degree, I can almost guarantee that the money families receive isn’t going toward washi tape, organic vegetable deliveries and a Nintendo Switch.

If you have those things or prioritize them, this isn’t a criticism of you or your wealth.

I’m using this discussion as an exercise to take a step back and think about where we are, and how we’re all going to get through it.

"There are probably many families who would love this kind of disinfected care package right now."

If you have extra bread, share the wealth in a safe way. The same can be said for unused toys, books and clothes. Clean them and make an offer online to deliver them locally, if you’re comfortable.

Got an old e-reader after a family upgrade? A beat-up laptop that still works that’s just collecting dust? A printer with ample paper that could print out worksheets for others? Markers, crayons and pencil crayons? There are probably many families who would love this kind of disinfected care package right now.

Not to keep up with the Joneses, but to have something beyond their imaginations to break up the day.

Spreading the Word

I think a good way to get the word out could be an old-fashioned approach — flyer some local areas! And you could widen your net by posting some helpful callouts on Facebook Marketplace or community groups, because maybe your neighbours know some people in need. The Government of Canada even has a network set up for technology donations here.

And if you can’t do any of that, just remember that people are listening. And people are reading. And I know not everything ever written has to be for the masses. It’s impossible to please or touch everyone.

But not everyone is in a privileged position. And they may never be, global pandemic or not.

And that’s something I think the world could all be a little bit more mindful of.

Myself included.

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