On Wednesday, Cardi B posted the best thing I saw all week: a video of herself straight up savaging other celebrities who had been tested for COVID-19 despite not having any symptoms.
“If [Trump] is getting on a podium saying, ‘Hey listen, if you do not have any symptoms of the coronavirus, which is coughing, fever, etc. etc., do not get tested because we don’t have enough tests to test everybody. But if a celebrity is saying, ‘Hey listen, I don’t have no symptoms, I’m feeling good, I feel healthy, I don’t feel like nothing, but I went and got tested and I’m positive for the coronavirus,’ that causes confusion,” she said.
(ICYMI, she’s shading actor Idris Elba here. In a previous Instagram Live, she compared asymptomatic celebrities who tested positive for COVID-19 to influencers selling Flat Tummy Tea, sarcastically saying their videos were like paid endorsement deals. In response, Elba, who tested positive but has no symptoms, said that he thinks the debate over who’s getting tests—and more importantly, who’s not—isn’t “healthy.”)
Cardi also questioned why anyone was being charged for COVID-19 testing or treatments. “Some people don’t even have enough money to fucking afford health care,” she said in the March 25 video. “And I feel like all this shit for coronavirus treatments, for testing, for all that shit, I feel like the government should take that shit and charge it to the game and not charge people for it.”
Now, I’m not saying we should be taking public health advice from a rapper. (There has been more than enough misinformation spread by non-experts during this pandemic, thank you very much.) For one thing, she’s wearing a mask that she probably doesn’t need, especially given the shortage of protective gear at U.S. hospitals. Yes, it appears to be a regular surgical mask, not an N95 respirator, but even those are in short supply.
But I think we could all take a cue from her empathy. I was kind of blown away that she was so blunt about a fundamental issue celebrities tend to gloss over: privilege impacts access to healthcare and this uneven access costs lives. I know we want to think that we’re all in this together, but we aren’t, not really. Celebrities, business leaders and the wealthiest among us aren’t at risk of losing their jobs or homes, like so many “regular” people are, and they will almost certainly be able to access healthcare if they do get sick. By contrast, 36-year-old Kayla Williams, a Black mother of three in south London, U.K., died of suspected COVID-19 on March 21 after a paramedic told her she was “not a priority.”
So, yeah, I appreciate this wealthy, privileged celebrity calling out selfishness where she sees it.
Back in 2017, Kayla Chadwick wrote an article for HuffPost called “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.” She wrote about the things she was happy to pay more for via her taxes (healthcare, schools) or at the cash register (a Big Mac, if it means the cashier gets to make a living wage), and how it was impossible to debate with someone who didn’t feel the same. “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters,” she wrote.
The op-ed itself was great, but the title was what really stuck with me. It is still the perfect way to explain the fundamental problem of our time: there is a disturbingly large group who believe they matter more than other people.
Three years later, things have gotten worse, not better. Anne Helen Petersen riffed on Chadwick’s title in her March 8 newsletter, which was about Americans’ seeming inability to grasp how important it was to think about others, not just themselves, when preparing for COVID-19.
“If I’m fine with my healthcare, why would I care about others? If I get paid sick leave, why should I care if others not in my position don’t? Any good economist can tell you why you should—you eventually take on that burden in some way—but so many people cannot divorce themselves from the understanding of personal responsibility for, well, everything. You provide for and defend for yourself, and I’ll do the same for mine. Within this paradigm, if something bad happens (addiction, illness, disaster, poverty) you simply haven’t worked hard enough, haven’t cared enough, haven’t planned enough. The fault is yours, not the reticence of others to conceive of themselves as part of a larger social organism.”
When I read those words earlier this week, I immediately thought of the finance influencers I’d seen smugly tweeting about the importance of emergency savings. It’s not that they didn’t know that many people don’t make enough money to save three months’ worth of expenses—it’s that they didn’t care. It was just way more fun to dunk on people in far worse situations than they were in.
When they say they’re willing to die for the economy what they mean is they’re willing to let you die for the economy.— Adam Serwer 🍝 (@AdamSerwer) March 25, 2020
I know not everything is bad—I’ve seen the heartwarming stories of people helping one another by delivering groceries to housebound neighbours, or supporting local businesses, or being very patient when kids, pets and spouses interrupt Zoom calls.
But there have also been so many signs, big and small, that we still prioritize ourselves over society as a whole. U.S. Senators downplayed the impact of the coronavirus publicly but sold off millions in stocks before the market could crash, literally profiting off the pandemic. The lieutenant governor of Texas seriously suggested that grandparents would want to die of COVID-19 if it meant saving the U.S. economy (which would not save the economy, just for the record). Canadians lied to airlines about their symptoms so they could travel back home, ignored social distancing recommendations and, despite pleas from the government, continue hoarding bottled water, toilet paper, masks, gloves and, for some reason, ground beef.
Part of me is wondering what kind of people do shit like that, but the rest of me knows: it could be any one of us. Selfishness is baked into so much of how we interact with the world. Ideas that came from the realm of mental health—setting boundaries, self-care—are now mainstream, and it’s so easy to use them to give ourselves permission to prioritize our wants and needs without thinking about how it will impact others.
one day I will write an in depth analysis of how the "wellness industry" with its hyperfocus on individual approaches to structural problems, under the guise of "self care" helped create the conditions for the lack of solidarity in times of pandemic— Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) March 26, 2020
What’s more, as Twitter user @redlightvoices pointed out on Thursday, we’ve come to understand self-care as a solution to problems that aren’t actually individual. So many of us are anxious because our work is precarious, or because we need multiple side-hustles to afford our sky-high rent, or because we don’t have benefits (or any kind of healthcare, depending on where we live), or we can’t get jobs in our fields, or, or, or. It’s no wonder we then turn to self-care to help us through that anxiety, and to remind ourselves that we aren’t robots who can perpetually be productive—we need nourishing food, sleep, leisure time.
But we can’t self-care our way into a more just society! And that is actually what we need.
Not only for moral reasons, either—as has been made ultra-clear in recent weeks, our lives are increasingly connected. Viruses don’t care about socio-economic status and they can find their ways anywhere, from prisons to literal palaces. So, actually, we are each only as safe, secure and healthy as the least privileged member of our communities… which should motivate us to rethink what we even mean by self-care. Maybe it’s not only tending to our own needs, but also making decisions that protect all of us. Like, yes, staying home during the global pandemic. But also voting for candidates who prioritize public health resources for the most vulnerable people in our communities, vaccinating our children (AHEM, M.I.A.), and supporting wealth taxes, whether we ourselves will be affected by them or not.
There has already been a lot of talk about how society will change once this is all over, including some speculation that this crisis will bring us together. Let’s hope so. Or at the very least, let’s hope the people who supported a Cheeto-orange reality TV show host in the past will realize that looking out for number one isn’t just wrong, it’ll also screw you over in the long run.
Because, to completely misuse a meme, we do, in fact, live in a society—and those don’t actually work if we’re all out for ourselves.
And Did You Hear About…
This fantastic deep dive into the lasting musical impact of NSYNC’s No Strings Attached album.
Britney Spears’ Instagram post calling for redistribution of wealth. (Seriously, though—while I’ve been laughing at the socialist jokes, we should remember that she is reportedly on strike herself to protest her conservatorship.)
This excellent personal essay by a woman whose husband cheated on her when she was seven months pregnant.
Kanye West still being pro-Trump, as per his recent WSJ Magazine cover story. (Sigh.)
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