More than once in the last three years, I’ve gotten lost in West Wing binges where Josiah Bartlet is MY President. It’s self-care, I think, and say, and justify. The world outside is not how I want it to be, and thus my fantasy world is where I shall retreat, in my super-soft pajama pants, drinking from novelty water bottle that indicates that I’ve met my water goal for the day. Good job, me!
I’m not the only one sheltering in a self-care bubble. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to proliferate throughout American life, we have seen a ramp-up of articles, ads and videos about self-care. True, isolation is inconvenient, difficult and sometimes, downright dangerous. The problem is that self-care strategies in their original intention are meant for those who actually need it – not for bored, left-leaning white women like me.
Self-care is meant for individuals who walk out into the world and have to navigate macro- and micro-aggressions all day long, just for being themselves. They are people of color. They are individuals with disabilities. They are individuals who are gender nonconforming. They are NOT the mainstream, dominant culture who do not need an alternative (read: white) name just to order their damn coffee.
It can be argued to some degree that women as a whole are deserving of self-care, because we have to exist in a culture where patriarchy is still very much alive. Especially now, as women continue to get piled on as the pandemic rages – the homeschooling, the childcare, the elder care, at-home nursing, the shopping during stressful shortages, the cooking and cleaning (so much disinfecting). As a queer stepmom with young children, I get it. Do we all need time to crash out sometimes with Netflix and a heavily poured glass of whiskey? Absolutely. No argument from me.
What I am arguing against though, is actively using self-care as an excuse instead of engaging in efforts that shed light on and challenge this cycle of privilege – whether it’s a subconscious disengagement or not. I have definitely found myself in situations where my “good intentions” did not translate into action in any meaningful way, and in fact, created harm rather than alleviating it. And the difference between these two things – intention and action – becomes painfully apparent during times like this pandemic.
There have been many articles published on the inequalities and divisions happening in our country because of COVID-19. Who is getting tested and who isn’t, who is getting sick, which populations are able to quarantine. We see many commercials with comfortable (mostly white) families tucked into their homes, implored to stay there. Except if you are working at a warehouse, grocery store or fast food restaurant – then you go to work so the rest of us can get our ice cream, yoga mats and luxury athletic gear delivered directly to our door, thank you very much.
The truth is that while we may be more physically distanced from one another, our spiritual connectedness to the struggles and suffering of marginalized groups hasn’t changed at all. White people as a whole have never been all that close to understanding the suffering of marginalized groups by societal design, and by maintaining our distance, the heavy lift that equity requires stays on the backs of those who would benefit from it the most. Which is, of course, not equitable at all.
White people have got to give something(s) up if we claim to want a more equitable world in which all individuals have access to the things they need – whether it be a hospital bed, a mortgage or a fair-paying job. If we truly want that, then obviously, white people can’t have all the hospital beds, houses and jobs—and certainly not all the self-care.
So instead of losing ourselves in the days that all seem to blend together, let’s take this time to collectively reflect on our actions, and figure out how to engage in social justice work that would create true equity so when the isolation period is lifted, we can come out as better, more effective allies and actors in changing our landscape.
I’m sure you’ve already heard a lot about volunteering your time at the local nonprofits that desperately need your help. If you’re not able to volunteer, cash donations with no strings attached are especially helpful right now, so those nonprofits can be flexible with their budgets to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. Or give to a cause that directly addresses the disparities of the pandemic.
Perhaps most importantly, pay attention to your community around you. Don’t zone out. Don’t replace it with fictional dramatizations of a world you wished you lived in. This could be a key, pivotal moment for women to make an impact this November. Really think about it: is this the country we want?
As much as I love Martin Sheen and my super-soft pajama pants, it’s more important to me that after I shut the TV off, the actual world outside is a more equitable place in which to live – not for me, but for my neighbors. Which means that the time that has been afforded to me during this pandemic should be used effectively, instead of simply slumping into my privilege as the equity around us continues to rapidly crumble.
Lauryn Bianco is the Vice President of Operations and Philanthropy at Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She holds an MBA from Eller College of Management and an MA in Gender and Women’s Studies both from the University of Arizona.