We Americans often like to think of ourselves as a mostly “middle-class” society. Too often, we avert our eyes from seeing how many in the middle-class have become more and more economically unstable, and mired in debt. Worse, we refuse to articulate with each other, and in our politics, how the wealthier you are, the more perks and protections you have. COVID-19 is making this diversion from the reality we live with every day starker than ever. During this virus crisis, as we sit glued to televisions and our computers, we are literally seeing the privilege of celebrities and upper-class people every waking moment of the day. Even college students are noticing this among each other, in an environment where college students usually see themselves are more equal as classmates.
My education in class came from my college experience, first as a student at community college, and then transferring to a premier internationally known university. At community college, I was hit in the face with my upper-middle-class privilege, compared to students from economically struggling families. I was doubly privileged because my parents financially supported me, while students I attended college with were holding down often-two jobs and only taking two courses at a time. I then transferred to UCLA, where I saw the difference between my upper-middle-class experience and others who came from truly wealthy families. I found that many of my new friends came from wealthy families who had way more opportunities than I ever did, like expensive international vacations, and who had various high-society level connections. Just as I had to sensitize myself about people who did not have my level of privilege, I find that I now have to wonder if some of my wealthier friends can understand what it is like to be unable to afford traveling or eating at an expensive restaurant. Many students depend on the universities they attend for basic food and housing. In this pandemic, I am observing how many are finally seeing the privilege the top 1-10% has compared to the rest of the country.
This is seen where people excoriate celebrities for making videos of them singing “Imagine” or complaining about having to quarantine themselves in their huge mansions, beach houses, and, in the case of David Geffen and a few others, yachts. Or, how they are relying on take-out from swank restaurants or having a $24,000 refrigerator filled with premium ice cream costing $12 a point. It is becoming very clear how very different their lifestyles are from most Americans, especially those who cannot make rent because they were just laid off. I think the time of worshipping celebs is taking a beating as it becomes more clear how greedy they are with their money, and how truly privileged they are. Many of them could donate more and try to help, but instead we find them singing or complaining, as if they are only a little different from the people who are looking at potential evictions.
I believe that our system is mistreating those who are not financially secure and wealthy at this time. Many politicians and wealthy people would rather sacrifice the lives of many to maintain their economically-based privileges. I hope enough of us who are in the bottom 90%, and some who are in the top 1-10% who have empathy, can carry this into the rest of this election season, and realize we need to vote for those who honestly stand for making a better society for all of us, not only the economically privileged.