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How the pandemic served as magnifying glass for inequalities

Date:21 October 2020
Daria's brother
Daria's brother

Upcoming Friday will mark six months since the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Since then, we've seen our world stop, change and adapt to the crisis situation we found ourselves in.

By Daria Y. Elizarrarás Veenstra

From our daily habits to our social interactions, we changed the way we worked and lived, and we started to manage our lives from behind the screen. Education went online and social contact became limited: we adapted in every way we could. But what about those who were left behind, not because they didn’t want to join but because they couldn’t.

With the passing of time it became clearer that ‘adapting’ was just a mere privilege and not pure resilience. Life in a pandemic, indeed became difficult, but some of us had the means to deal with the difficulties that others simply didn’t.

Yesterday, I was going through some readings while the Dutch news on the background caught my attention. I neared the screen to find a reportage on televised education in Mexico. Apparently, because the country was so hardly hit by the pandemic, school had been cancelled (at least) until the end of the year. That I already knew from my mother, it seemed that my brother’s learning plan had been adapted to be given online for the upcoming four months, which my mother was deeply frustrated about. “He has not had any physical interaction with any kid his age since his classes got cancelled”, she then told me over the phone. Still, my little brother is one of the lucky ones, for some other children education stopped altogether due to a lack of internet or computer-access in their households. It was therefore that classes were now being transmitted on television reaching many kids that had been left without school for months. Great, I thought to myself, but I couldn’t help but wonder what about those who didn’t even own a TV in the first place.

Systemic poverty and racism, institutional discrimination, the perpetual cycles of inequality that were now only becoming increasingly visible throughout this crisis. When one is born in disadvantage every hill on the path becomes a mountain. Life becomes simply, and unfairly so, more challenging. And finally, after some months of dealing with this “new normal” people started to notice.

“Oh how unfortunate that the pandemic is creating all these inequalities” is a statement I have heard coming up in conversation a couple of times already. And indeed, the situation is definitely negatively contributing to the disparities in our society. Though in reality, the pandemic simply highlighted a bitter truth that many already knew, though most chose to unsee: That in every crisis, be it a pandemic, political instability or a climate emergency, the less privileged will always suffer the most even while being the smallest contributors to any of these bigger issues.

In conclusion, the pandemic did not create these inequalities: we cannot blame a deeply rooted problem on a virus. “Don’t kill the messenger”, they often say “he is merely repeating someone else’s words”. Don’t blame the pandemic for the consequences of a system built on an imperialist past, characterized by hierarchies and systemic inequalities.

Accepting that this is much more intricate than the initial belief comes with the realization that there is no clear solution to it either. And even though awareness does not consequently mean action, there is no action without the former.

I used to believe I was aware of the unearned advantages I have in my life, though now more than ever I have come to understand that I will never fully comprehend these. And if it wasn’t for this magnifying glass, I wonder… how long would I have kept ignoring my privilege?

This blog post was published on 6 September by Daria Y. Elizarrarás Veenstra on her website. The article is written for the class of Diversity, Intersectionality and Global Health, part of the bachelor's programme Global Responsibility & Leadership.