Imagine this: You’re leaving your house with a mask on, going to meet your friends who you haven’t seen in a while to have a good time, and paying little mind to the pandemic. You have your masks on maybe half the time, maybe not. A couple hours in, you all get together, maybe six inches apart instead of six feet, take your masks off — because COVID also stops for group pics — and you take your obligatory dense group photo to flaunt on your Instagram feed with the caption “dw masks off only for the pic.”
Oh, word? You’ve done this before? Well, let’s take this one level further. Imagine this completely fake, not-real scenario of flying to Tahiti with your friends for a vacation during a pandemic — and then posting about it on social media and calling yourself “humble” for it. Just kidding, the Kardashian clan already did that, just a few days before Halloween this year — during this pandemic.
I get it. Sort of. This pandemic is rough for a lot of us, and we’re tired. But people are literally dying and getting infected with COVID-19 as you read this. Group gatherings, at this point, directly spit on the graves of the over 200,000 Americans who have died this year. At best, some can still live comfortably indoors. At worst, people aren’t able to get treated and are worried about, or currently facing, evictions. To put it nicely, it is very privileged to break quarantine and pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist by partying on an island.
Historically, it’s also classic white behavior.
Consider the Columbian Exchange from our history textbooks: the exchange of goods and resources for the Europeans, and the colonization and genocide of Indigenous peoples. Consider how English, French, and Spanish settlers all came onto this land mass for the sake of “exploration.” These colonizers came to ravage these lands because they wanted something new to do.
This very well parallels all of these quarantine vacations and doing what you want because you want to. In a more insidiously silent way, even pre-pandemic, you would see this happening with the immense tourism and colonialism in places like Hawaii, at the expense of Native Hawaiians, juxtaposed by the tourists who view it as a paradise and step all over it. It’s the privilege of having fun at the expense of others who are likely less fortunate and already marginalized in this country.
Affluent people feel like they can live in their own little bubble and ignore the fact that there’s a global pandemic — a pandemic which the United States, Canada, and many European countries are doing an absolutely abysmal job controlling. It’s not just Kim Kardashian’s vacation; lots of everyday people, lots of everyday students, feel like they’re removed from COVID-19, as if this is a matter of survival of the fittest.
Greek Row is still active, with 500 infected with coronavirus since the summer. People still had Halloween parties and gatherings, despite the United States reaching a record number of infections just one day prior. Live shows like Saturday Night Live and a series of late-night shows are now being held in the usual studios, because apparently the pandemic is better now. People are still hanging around in groups not totally masked or socially distanced.
It almost feels like things are just merging “back to normal” for so many because, in a sick way, this country is so used to oppression and strife. It feels normal to just get back into the swing of things, regardless of what public health officials say.
Baked into these occurrences is a feeling of detachment from the pandemic, whether explicitly or implicitly felt. Many feel like they won’t get COVID-19, or that it’s not a big deal, as if the virus discriminates against people who just want to live their lives. A recent tweet on the popular Twitter account @sheratesdogs includes a screenshot of a Bumble chat where someone writes, “Time to move on from that sweetie,” in reference to the coronavirus.
These are not unique occurrences. Rather, they signal an overall issue very prominent in American culture: the propaganda emphasizing “rugged individualism” and the demonization of collectivism and community. This culture feels like a big part of the reason why the pandemic is so bad in this country, and the reason why all the vacationing and safety violations feel at least a little bit normal, considering what America is.
Back in March, when we saw the coronavirus becoming an issue for the United States, some of the first reactions were that wearing masks and mandating a lockdown infringed on our rights as Americans –– that we should all have the freedom to do what we want. But taking safety measures is for the sake of protecting yourself, and, more importantly, protecting your community. There’s a lack of value for community care in overall American society, because it’s always about the self, the individual.
The quarantine vacations, unfortunately, feel more normal than they should. I mean, who is surprised that the Kardashians decided to ignore travel bans and safety guidelines just so they could celebrate a birthday in Tahiti? It feels normal, but above all, it reeks of selfishness and gross privilege.
With every vacation, party, and unsafe gathering happening during a growing pandemic, every one of us should really reflect on whether this is who we want to be, especially when we could instead be working to eradicate the pandemic in this country.
Reach writer Deborah Kwon at email@example.com. Twitter: @debskwo
Like what you’re reading? Support high-quality student journalism by donating here.