Coronavirus is a Great Highlighter, not a Great Equalizer

 

I live in the most interesting block of neighborhood I’ve ever personally experienced.

When I look out of my office window which faces the front of the house, I see houses that are a blend of homes owned by the single families who inhabit them, homes rented by the inhabitants, and, as with our home, large houses that were once single-family homes and have, sometime in the century (give or take) since they were built been split into multiple apartments. We life in the latter-most, renting the bottom floor of a house built somewhere around the turn of the 20th Century.

When I sit on the patio of our fenced-in yard, as I’m doing as I write this, I look past a gravel alley, then at the backs of another row of houses similar to those seen through our front-facing windows, and then across the street to a number of boxy brick buildings holding subsidized apartments. Truthfully, for subsidized housing, they’re pretty attractive, each building painted in its own muted shade, glass brick allowing light into the stairways. That’s where my knowledge of the complex stops, though; I’ve never been inside.

Through the front windows: Joggers and bicyclists, Subarus and Jeeps, people – who are almost entirely white – are staying in place other than to walk dogs and go for supplies runs.

Past the backyard: Cars that are barely holding it together and a few that have had the extra TLC of oversized rims or extra-booming stereos installed, and a bus stop that remains active for people still going to work, people who are almost exclusively black.

I was grateful to hear Dr. Fauci talk about the disproportionate toll Covid-19 is taking on the black community. Statistically speaking, those who live in the apartment complex behind our home are more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and a host of other pre-existing conditions than those whose homes are visible through my office window. This isn’t because of a genetic disposition or poor decision-making; we would see the same with any population who had experienced generations upon generations of unequal access to healthcare, healthful food, and other health-enhancing resources, and whose experience with the healthcare system had so often bred understandable distrust.

I hope that Dr. Fauci’s quiet yet resolute call to remedy these inequalities makes an impact, much in the way his willingness to challenge his own biases during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (and willingness to buck the status quo that said it wasn’t a worthwhile focus because it was a gay men’s disease) made an enormous difference for the healthcare received by those living with – well, at that time, rapidly dying from – that virus.

In the meantime, awareness matters – awareness within black and low-income communities, sure, and also among those of us who have more – more privilege, more income, more access.

If you, like me, are a part of that latter group, I encourage you to listen to this 24 minute episode of the Code Switch podcast to learn more. You might make a point to seek out more opportunities in your news feed to learn how this disease, misidentified as a “great equalizer” is actually highlighting societal disparities.

And if, like me, you’re more likely to reside on the side of my house seen through my front windows, you might pause to reflect on this new lens of seeing the unearned privilege of being white in America. The more aware we are of that, the less likely we are to take it for granted or fall prey to the fallacy that our country offers a level playing ground for all people.

Not yet.

And not ever if those of us with unearned privilege don’t get on board.