The spread of the Coronavirus is exposing how selfish our society is by highlighting our hypocrisy where ableism is concerned.
About a week ago, I started the process of shopping for my brand new apartment a day after signing a lease… solo. I was so giddy about moving up in the world that concerns over the Coronavirus/COVID-19—while still present in my mind—were merely in the back of my mind. Particularly because it hadn’t been declared a pandemic yet. Still, on top of continuing my normal ritual of washing my hands and etc, I rolled my happy Walmart cart into the cleaning section and found that the only cleaning wipes available were some really expensive organic ones for nearly ten dollars.
“How annoying,” I thought, as I begrudgingly chucked the can of exorbitant wipes into my cart. But little did I know this was an omen for things to come.
Fast forward and COVID-19 has been officially declared a pandemic. Any large gathering is being discouraged in order to prevent the virus from spreading. Large events like parades, whole tours, whole sports seasons (a la the NBA and the NCAA), and whole conventions have been canceled or rescheduled for later dates. Classes have been canceled and moved online, students are being sent home, while workers (particularly in service jobs) have been encouraged to stay at home. People have been strongly discouraged from traveling. All of these precautions seem airtight, right? Well, in theory, yes… if capitalism, ableism, and rugged individualism weren’t worshipped in this country (and by extension, much of the “Western” and “Free” World—as proven by Europeans tourists who are STILL carelessly flying to and infecting other countries despite pushes to contain the virus).
Which is to say that: the combination of these three things are exposing just how selfish and immoral we are as a country… and how this selfishness has led to a repugnant lack of a hardy social net/infrastructure.
So let’s start with this individualist shit I keep mentioning. Some may be wondering where I’m getting it from and ironically, while it’s a concept I strongly believe always existed hand-in-hand with the concept that is “America,” the actual term of “rugged individualism” did not emerge until October 22, 1928, when then-President Herbert Hoover named it in his “Principles and Ideals of the United States Government” speech. Hoover, a “self-made” millionaire (which doesn’t exist, but I digress), argued that America was built on “rugged individualism” and defined it as self-reliance and self-determination—stressing that the US Government “which had necessarily assumed unprecedented economic powers during World War I”, should back the fuck up and let people do their thing. Basically? It’s a really fancy way of saying “every [man] for themselves.” It’s coming from the same tree as both Manifest Destiny and Bootstrap Logic (as in “only we matter and no one else”)—both of which are unique forms of American narcissism at work.
And, as y’all know, the Great Fucking Depression started the next fucking year (1929), after the stock market crashed. Ironically. Tragically. But also hilariously (in hindsight). Especially because all of this—rations, high unemployment, poor healthcare (if at all), homelessness, and etc—preceded, and exacerbated a world war.
I know what you’re thinking. How the fuck did I get all this from an empty wipes section at Walmart? Well, the whole idea of stockpiling and hoarding resources for oneself—over another—is right in line with “rugged individualism.” Right in line with all that “American spirit” jazz. But the irony of this, of a pandemic like COVID-19, is that you are literally only as healthy as the person next to you. It is that your whole “I got mines already, so fuck what you’re doing” attitude about the next person… will ensure that that person gets sick. You’ll fuck up any minor semblance of herd immunity. So, if you’re hoarding a bunch of cleaning supplies and food so that the next person can’t get any, guess what’s finna happen?
Recommended: YOU CAN’T SAY “EAT THE RICH” IF YOU DON’T INCLUDE DISABLED PEOPLE IN YOUR LABOR ACTIVISM
We all finna get sick.
Which brings me to my next point: COVID-19 is exposing how selfish we are by highlighting our hypocrisy where ableism is concerned.
This is rather obvious when it comes to the hoarding of cleaning supplies I witnessed at Walmart… mainly because the people who need these wipes the most at this moment in time (re: immunocompromised and immunosuppressed people) are no longer able to access them. But what really made my head spin from this was the massive push to move classes online and move businesses online as well, in an effort to get employees to work, safely, from home. Obviously, since we’re in the middle of a pandemic, this makes logical sense, but then when I remember all the times corporate America (and the rest of America for that matter) made it seem like it was impossible to make these accommodations happen… for disabled people.
After years of locking disabled people out of accessing mainstream employment or making us believe that it would be too tedious or too costly (and, in rare cases, immoral and wasteful because of, you guessed it, bootstrap logic and rugged individualism) to implement, suddenly everybody is all in.
Because the abled’s are in trouble.
And this bullshit goes beyond the online realm. Starbucks—who was at the center of the push to ban disposable straws for being “bad for the environment,” even though doing so would be at great cost to the disabled people who needed them—is back in our faces with disposable cups. White people who gloated on Twitter about every body part they refused to wash—and called every person who checked them for it (including disabled people who would be the first ones to be affected by their poor hygiene) are now some of the main people hoarding wipes, disinfectants, soap, face masks, and fucking toilet tissue and paper towels. And, suddenly, anti-vaxxers who have talked all sorts of cash money about the existence of vaccines are either silent now or, ironically… asking where a COVID-19 vaccine is.
As if they would even use it.
But that’s not the point. The bigger point here, which has been magnified by our country’s collective ableism and oxymoronic push for “rugged individualism,” is the fact that people really don’t wanna do shit if it’s not going to benefit them personally… or monetarily, until it’s far too late. Granted, these are all larger symptoms of capitalism—as seen by the fact that, say, New York didn’t think to routinely clean its subway system until COVID-19 was a thing, the fact that companies like Olive Garden and Walmart didn’t see the point of giving their employees benefits and paid sick time off until the virus was right on top of us, and the fact that electric and billing companies could have suspended service shutdowns and evictions this entire time and just… chose not to do so. But it’s not enough to just call out capitalism out. In fact? That’s light work. The real work happens when we call out what roles we play in perpetuating it… and the fact that many of us have been trained to be straight up resentful of the next person under capitalism if some greater good is provided in society but somehow doesn’t benefit us individually.
And it’s something we should probably confront before we’re all too dead to do it.