Opinion: We are not ‘in this together’ with the wealthy during the coronavirus pandemic

By Margaret Smith, Opinions Editor

Shane Tolentino

As public officials across the globe shutter businesses and public spaces and humans isolate themselves in their homes, videos from every corner of Hollywood surface with one similar sentiment: “We are in this together.”

While quite literally all humans, including the wealthy, are in this together—given that we breathe the same air and walk the same earth—we are not all, in a social and realistic sense, battling the coronavirus the same way. And how could we, given the advantage the wealthy have any time mankind faces a crisis? They have the ability to take flight to safer horizons, barricade in homes of marble and remove themselves from reality entirely.

Every day, news outlets release photo essays capturing medical staff whose faces have been rubbed raw by protective masks and garments meant to ward off the entrance of the coronavirus into their bodies, while they work another seemingly endless shift day after day.

Every day, I see ads from grocery store chains looking to hire staff to stock shelves as current employees—risking their health to obtain a paycheck—are steamrolled by the influx of customers to their stores who are there to panic-buy and stockpile necessities.

And in between these posts on social media, every day I see another celebrity rattle off their agenda for “day whatever” of their quarantine. They so graciously keep us up to speed with baking or yoga livestreams and constant virtual updates on how cleaning their pool is going, which vegetable they’re going to shove in their juice presser next or how much they cleaned out of their hoarder-esque closet of luxury items.

I do not envy the wealthy for their ability to remove themselves from the devastation that is happening across the world, affecting every sector, big and small. Instead, I fear this disconnect they have formed, assuming that “when this thing blows over,” their life will go back to “normal” and they will crawl out of their multi-million dollar bunkers in Los Angeles and New York City thinking this was just another one of those things—untouched, unscathed.

How do they manage to escape the dystopian world of current times? By having access to goods—not just groceries but the accoutrements of their luxury—and even more important now, access to better medicine and private medical staff. Meanwhile, across the U.S., people are being turned away from hospitals because there are not enough ventilators or coronavirus test kits. Instead, they go home and simply hope for the best—an action the wealthy would never imagine taking.

Still, the reality that their amassed fortunes can buy safety—or the belief it is owed to them given their stature—is egotistically selfish. Gwenyth Paltrow, for example, Instagrammed herself a few weeks back on a plane to Paris with a high-grade mask on, the same kind doctors currently experiencing nationwide shortages could have used. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask that people, not just celebrities, use a little critical thought to comprehend that their actions affect others.


I grow weary as the “elite” parade around, trivializing their stay-at-home vacations when there are so many middle- and working-class people next on the list to die from a virus they have no choice but to face while working in order to keep the earth turning during this crisis—not to mention to keep their own lights on at home.

To be even more critical, however, privilege doesn’t solely exist in the estates of the wealthy. It exists in being able to work from home, having a safe group of people to quarantine with, having an income in this trying time and not having a pre-existing health condition, such as asthma, that makes someone more susceptible to the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

I, too, can speak to the privilege I am indulged in during this time of uncertainty. I can work from home; I have a family who took me in after Columbia closed its dorms; and I can sit at home and watch the world unravel through a small black screen in my hand.

As a senior in college this year, my graduation was canceled, and I watched the “lasts” of my college experience slip away from me. Yet, I remind myself: Would I rather be forced to go to school or work or take public transit every day when seemingly one walk outside might inflict me or my family with a deadly virus? No. Furthermore, should Columbia faculty and staff be made to concoct an alternative commencement or Manifest when, instead, they should be more concerned with ensuring quality virtual education, at a bare minimum, to students? Of course not.

What we gripe and groan about now must come with the additional thought that, maybe, it matters little when world-wide nearly 900,000 people have been infected—and approximately 50,000 have died—since January with a virus we aren’t even close to curing.

These privileges do not negate the anxiety and fear we are collectively experiencing as something out of our hands ravages the globe. While we can be united by fear, nevertheless, we navigate it differently given our economic, social and familial standings.

Hollywood cannot begin to imagine the way I am dealing with this pandemic, the same way I cannot begin to understand how those in susceptible demographics and those working the front lines of the service and healthcare industries are maneuvering through this nightmare.

The “in this together” mantra feels like an invisible cloak, hiding that, in reality, celebrities are nothing like us. If these celebrities could remove the cloak, state without haughtiness that they are in a different position and use that position to assist the world as it crumbles—maybe there would be respect in being a voice of peace in a time like this. Fame and fortune do no good except to the ones who hoard it, unless they are giving back to the people who put them on these pedestals.