I Learned About Privilege During this Lockdown. And it Stinks.
The past 2 months have been almost surreal. Confined to one’s home has brought out the best and worst in people. It has also exposed the glaring proportions of privilege prevalent in our society to a level where it’s in your face.
The first week saw me grateful that I had stocked up my supplies and did not have to line up on the 24th of March for hours. It also meant I had the money to do that whereas people were worried about how they could afford to buy for more than a few days as they did not have the money to do so. Having disposable income is a privilege. This has proven itself time and time again over the past few weeks.
The next few weeks saw the emergence of Pick Me, the mad ass rush to get on the Keells website which was a fiasco of epic proportions with people sitting up at 6am refreshing web pages like a Morse code teller tapping long and short, in an attempt to get their daily supplies. Being online is a privilege. Having money to pay for fibre and fast data is a privilege. Being internet savvy is a privilege. Listening to my neighbours waiting for the bread van or the fish truck, while I was ordering from Pick Me, Uber and other vendors online, reminded me that being tech savvy is an advantage.
Watching the day wage earners of India walking 800km to their homes was a jolt in the senses like no other. It really reminded us of how lucky we truly are. How blessed.
Working from home or WFH. The new opportunity which had to be inadvertently utilized by companies that believe to sit in an office equates working. To have internet and a computer is a must for most corporate executives. Yet not all executives earn in a manner that can fund these things. Most corporates in Sri Lanka are old fashioned in their thinking and rather stingy in their outlook. What happened to those who did not have company laptops at home? What of those who had no computers whatsoever?
Even distance learning and online classes. So many parents cannot afford that kind of data or money to buy a computer. How many children have no access to their education? Or is it survival of the fittest – Darwinian theory of evolution in practice? Perhaps those not submerged in a school syllabus are learning other life skills. Perhaps they will be the outliers who sink or swim. Again, education is a privilege. Modern education with online learning is a luxury that a majority in this country cannot afford.
I also witnessed the roaring trade in food. I guess a lot of people are comfort eaters. And when you’re stuck at home, food is a great comfort. Especially tasty food. Like cakes, brownies, biryani etc. Things you would not eat every day were now available to you during a crisis time. And they are not cheap. I foolishly gave into an urge and bought 4 cinnamon rolls doused in various toppings for Rs. 3600 plus transport. Basically I paid Rs. 900 per lump of dough doused in chocolate or sugar glaze. Not worth the bloody price. If it was some hotel, there would be posts. But this is off Instagram – the latest business outpost. Where home bakers are either struggling or ripping you off with untaxed money for lumps of dough and sugar. There are the good ones but there are plenty of rip offs too. And to be able to afford them is a privilege.
Human anxiety is a great feeder of insecurity and fear. It propels us to do things which we normally would not do. Like buy 50kg of rice for one family, indulge in cakes when we don’t need them, buy 12 packs of butter to feed about 6 people. Panic buying is common. And there are those who are benefitting immensely.
Yet among all these individuals, we hear the heart breaking stories of day wage earners, slum dwellers, factory workers and labourers left stranded with no money and no work. They have families. They live on rent. They have no money to pay that rent. Some had pawned their mobile phones (not smart phones) to buy supplies. Others were feeding their children flour with water instead of milk. A reality check would come knocking on the door in the form of skilled workers – masons, factory workers – asking for help because they have families who are hungry. Giving them a few dry rations seems like pouring drops of water on a parched desert. The bloody politicians have not made the Rs. 5000 accessible to the deserving and instead have only fed their voter base. Party politics during a global pandemic. Privilege. Shoved in the face of the poor once again, reminding them that money talks and bullshit walks.
Even the frontline workers, the essential services – basically, government healthcare and the farmers of this country – we cannot survive without them. What this crisis has forced us to face is that we need them more than we do our luxury brands, travel budgets and nights out. We need food. We need health. We need to be guarded from this virus. Yet will we ever pay these people what they truly deserve? No. We will be bargaining for a gotukola bundle at the pola while paying for a Mercedes Benz with no bargain whatsoever. Again, privilege.
These two months showed me starkly what privilege was. I am privileged to be even writing this today while the world is uncertain of tomorrow. Privilege is the sad reality we live in. It has always been there but now it’s glaring at us in the face. And it stinks. No matter how much we want to help, there will always be those who are better off by virtue of their capital and not humanity. There will always be those who are suffering. Coz the system is built that way. It is only by repressing one segment can another thrive to the levels it does. Structural violence in practice. Privilege.
It is also a reminder that the system needs to change. If not, it will be like putting a plaster on a wound without addressing the cause of the wound. We are all a party to that – and we need to start now.