I Shouldn’t Be Essential: A Privilege Check

I Shouldn’t Be Essential: A Privilege Check

In one shift, I estimate I’ve contributed to the production of nearly 100 margaritas. While my boyfriend, with his “real” job with things like minutes for meetings and casual Fridays, is told to stay home, I not only get to attend work in person, but I have to.

Facebook is a breeding ground for guilt and soapboxes. Friends whose opinions I respect are begging their friends to save lives by staying home.

But here’s what’s happening in my world:

Earlier this year I began the job hunt to get out of the restaurant industry and put my shiny new Masters degree to work. At the end of several interview processes, a disease swept the planet and effectively shut down all normalcy. Restaurants were forced to end their dine-in services and reduce to takeout or delivery only, causing the dismissal of countless people from jobs they depend on.

I was not one of them.

As a manager, I get to stay behind and help keep the machine well-oiled so that there will be something for the rest of the staff to return to when this is all over. We are still serving margaritas and tacos to Montgomery’s residents still interested in leaving their houses.

I’m lucky that I work for a company who wants to do right by their staff, and I’m lucky that I was promoted last year to this position.

But, as the nation struggles to weigh the importance of economic health against human health, I’ll just say it loud and clear: Restaurants should not be essential businesses, and it is the government’s job to protect the economic health of its residents while they protect their physical health.

Also: healthcare should not be tied to employment. Anyone who votes otherwise in November is an idiot and an oxygen thief.

I fear economic loss greater than I fear spreading COVID-19, because that is the more tangible concern at this point. If the government wants this disease to stop overwhelming hospitals, they need to reassure us that they’ll do their part to prevent economic collapse. I don’t trust those in charge right now.

This disease has been a practice in checking our own privilege. Some people get to stay safe, work from home, and keep their jobs. Others have no choice but to continue going to work or otherwise lose their home…even if they feel the ethical thing to do is to stay home.

I’m also fortunate that I have other skills. Speaking of, does anyone need a website? I have great prices.

I’m working with my employer to figure out which balance will best mitigate both my economic and my personal health concerns. Right now, this means a reduction of hours. And a loss of hours means a loss of pay.

My full title in the Peace Corps was Water, Sanitation, Health and Nutrition Extension Agent. Do you know what that means? That means I learned a whole new language just so I could teach people how to stop spreading diseases that were literally killing one in five of their children. Then I was emergency evacuated because bad guys kept blowing people up. Then I got a Masters degree and completed a thesis on why West African children are getting fucked by people who aren’t well-enough equipped to handle health crises. And now here I am, going out in public when Alabama is projected to have the fourth highest number of COVID-19-related deaths, because I don’t trust our government to do their job. We are handling this no different than a developing country, and I spent a ton of money to be able to make that statement from an informed perspective.

The governor of Alabama dragged her feet on issuing a stay-at-home order because “we’re not California.” Can you you imagine being so concerned with identity politics that you’d juxtapose yourself with your self-proclaimed rival before considering what’s actually best for your constituents? When the drunk old lady finally did issue the order, it was weak and hardly differed from what was already encouraged by the administration.

Take it from someone who knows: We need to take this seriously and not trust that the government will do their part to protect us. You know that you need to wash your hands and mind your distancing. Consider speaking up when you see someone screwing up, like my friend Lori did to me when I gathered with my friends last week for a birthday celebration.

We need to be gentle with those people who are still going to work. I am sorry that I am still going. I don’t want to. I love my job, but I love not contributing to pandemics more. But I don’t believe that, on the other side of this, I will have money to pay my bills if I choose to stay home.

Be good to yourself. Drink water and occasionally leave the house to take a walk.

Be good to others. Ask them gently why they’re making different choices from you. If you’re in the financial place to do so, buy something from them! Order merchandise from their restaurant online, or hire them to do a task for you remotely. I’m a web developer who specializes in WordPress, and the online store for my restaurants is located here.

Your other out-of-work friends might be interested in tutoring your child via video call. Or maybe they can come mow your lawn (and wipe down the mower when they’re done with it). Maybe they can write you an article or teach you how to style your hair. Maybe they can draw you some original tattoo art and you can provide them with a down payment.

This is new to all of us. There’s literally never been a pandemic in the globalism era. Information and misinformation spreads too quickly, but I’m doing the best I can to make choices with the information I have. Do you know how awkward it is to tell those around you that if a member of your family gets sick, you’re jumping in a car and driving across the country? Contingency plans make me feel strange, and I’d rather not have to have one. I want to both take this seriously, but not be hyper reactionary.

I also don’t want to be a part of the problem.

I’m sorry that I’m essential.

-Liz

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3 replies to “I Shouldn’t Be Essential: A Privilege Check

  1. CHRIS
    |

    NOT ONLY HAVE I BEEN FORCED TO WORK, I’VE ALSO BEEN FORCED TO TRAVEL. PICKING UP THE SLACK FROM THE TECHS AT THE BIG COMPANIES THAT HAVE SHUT DOWN… WHEN I’VE BEEN ON MILL SITES I’VE MADE SURE TO KEEP MY DISTANCE FROM EMPLOYEES AND SPRAY ANYONE DOWN WITH LYSOL THAT GETS WITHIN 10′ OF ME…(I NORMALLY AVOID THEIR EYES) BUT AS THE BIGGER MORE WELL ESTABLISHED BUSINESSES HAVE HAD THE OPTION OF CLOSING DOORS AND STOPPING TRAVEL THE SMALL BUSINESS I WORK FOR AND THE SAWMILLS WE PROVIDE SAWS AND SERVICE TO DON’T HAVE THAT OPTION. SO WE FORGE AHEAD, LYSOL IN ONE HAND PURELL IN THE OTHER WEARING OUR FACE MASKS PROUDLY AS THE FEW THAT KEEP THE COUNTRY RUNNING…..OR AT LEAST THAT’S WHAT THEY TELL ME…

  2. Tom
    |

    I am very proud to call you a friend. You are intelligent, compassionate, and also pretty funny and badass. Anyway, I completely understand where you are coming from, when you say, “I fear economic loss greater than I fear spreading COVID-19, because that is the more tangible concern at this point” and, “it is the government’s job to protect the economic health of its residents while they protect their physical health.”
    As a student and 20-year veteran of the food-service industry, and one who has lost his job. I agree: poverty is wack. And this federal administration is the DEFINITION of how to NOT be prepared for this kind of crisis.
    And I absolutely respect you in every way, almost more than anyone I’ve met in Montgomery, but I will say (not that this is what you were implying) that I believe that the reality of the COVID-19 epidemic and its death toll are more tangible than my lack of income right now.

    Even though it is forced upon me, I feel good knowing that I’m not making the problem worse by working. It is true that I would choose poverty over death any day, as well as poverty over the potential death of others.

    But that is just my position that I have to hold on to due to the circumstances forced upon me, and yours are absolutely valid given your personal circumstances.

    Thank you so much for the insightful essay.

  3. Dumbonem
    |

    Those darn oxygen thieves, but really! You made some excellent points! The fact that money and health insurance have to be considered over not contributing to the pandemic speaks volumes of the USA. We’re definitely not doing enough right. This is a mess. I’m sorry you’re essential too 🙁 I enjoyed reading your piece.

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