Keeping up with Coronavirus

The racism, classism, ageism and ableism in our coping mechanisms.

Nicole Shephard
Mar 13, 2020 · 3 min read
(Photo: Skitterphoto on Pexels)

Keeping up with the spread of COVID-19 infections, risk factors, fatality rates, WHO recommendations, local government measures, which supplies to stock (and what not to hoard), or how to properly wash our hands is important to keep ourselves and others as safe as possible.

But keeping up is a lot of work and doesn’t always leave enough room for considering those who are affected differently by this ongoing crisis.

The ageism & ableism behind indifference

The vast majority of those who become infected with coronavirus will only suffer light symptoms and fully recover within a few weeks. To younger and healthy folks, this sometimes seems to translate to “it’s not that big of a deal, I’ll be fine”. This attitude leads to a relatively nonchalant approach to simple safety measures like keeping adequate distance, refraining from handshakes, diligent hand-washing, or staying at home at the first sign of cold or flu symptoms.

This increases the risk of infection for the immunocompromised, chronically ill, or elderly who will suffer severe illness if infected, and who are unlikely to recover quickly, if at all.

Those at higher risk can avoid large gatherings and public transport all they want — as long as others continue to act irresponsibly, the virus spreads faster/further than necessary and the risk of contagion of those who can least afford it further increases.

The racism behind viral fears

As a direct result of coronavirus fears, racist and xenophobic attacks and microaggressions have been reported and documented in the media and on social media.

As the coronavirus spreads across the globe (cases have been reported in more than 120 countries), it makes less and less sense to assess the risk of contagiousness based on where someone has been in person. It may even provide a false sense of security to folks who have not been in close contact with anyone returning from a “risk zone”.

And hostility based on presumed proximity to affected regions is racism. As is avoidance and any other form of discrimination based on similar logics.

The classism behind risk avoidance

Working from home is a great way of avoiding close contact in offices and public transport. But let’s not forget, that switching to home office only is an option for a relatively privileged class of workers.

Many cannot work from home because their work requires physical presence and/or close contact with others. And that group includes many workers who are in precarious employment to begin with. Not only are they less able to avoid the risk of infection because they can’t work from home, they are also more likely to suffer hardship if affected by quarantine measures. Self-isolating for two weeks can mean no income for some, and worst-case no job to return to.

Let’s keep up by taking a moment to consider what our (in)actions may mean for people who are affected by this crisis in different, perhaps more troubling ways — in their health and wellbeing, in their safety, as well as in their livelihoods.

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Nicole Shephard

Written by

Feminist researcher, writer & consultant | PhD LSE Gender | gender and technology | diversity and inclusion| intersectionality and data.

a Few Words

A few words can change lives.

Nicole Shephard

Written by

Feminist researcher, writer & consultant | PhD LSE Gender | gender and technology | diversity and inclusion| intersectionality and data.

a Few Words

A few words can change lives.

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