Updated: Aug 19, 2021
As I sit and write these words, I am doing so in the comfort of my own home. Sat behind my computer, in a place that provides me convenience, solace and most importantly, security.
I live in Melbourne/ Naarm, which is currently facing its sixth lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been challenging, especially for those who are not in the same fortunate position where their home brings them similar comforts and protection. It’s been frustrating and difficult for everyone; limited to a 5km freedom, with only a window of 2hrs per day to go outside. A life so foreign to our busy, fast paced, and unrestricted lives we are all so accustomed to.
As the news of lockdowns continues to extend, I can’t help but feel helpless. Helpless for those with businesses to run and for families to support, for the children who are missing out on their connections and schooling, and for those who feel unsafe in their own homes.
I too am frustrated in my current limited abilities and opportunities.
Yet, with these acknowledgements, and the recognition of my privileged space within all of this chaos, I can’t help but stop in my thoughts, and challenge these personal frustrations. With such an acknowledgement of these prerogatives, it is my responsibility to look beyond my privileged landscape and recognise how limited I am in my perceptions. And while it is okay to feel these emotions and concede to its weight and challenges during these hard times of restrictions, it’s also important we gain some perspective and not lose sight of reality and our position within it.
This is not to say that our lived experiences and struggles should be ignored, we cannot disregard the fact that everything is relative to our own experiences. Nor should we draw comparisons that ultimately undermine the effects and severity these lockdowns have had on the livelihood of others and our greater community. But I can’t help and be saddened at our humanity, more specifically those who hold great privilege, yet continue to cry victim when the very thing that they are outraged over is in protest over such a crucial component that ultimately keeps our collective safe.
So freely we have heard the term ‘human rights’ thrown around during these lockdowns. People claiming their rights have been violated and stolen from them as a result of these restrictions. As someone who is in their last semester studying a Master of Human Rights, it seems this chapter in our content has gone missing. One thing we have studied thoroughly however, is the Western construction of Individualism and how toxic and detrimental this can be towards the greater good of humanity.
Western thoughts and ideologies have alienated individuals and continue to centre needs and priorities around the ‘individual’ gain. Individualism is a construction that is valued and practiced within the West, and in return, we have seen our society, in a time where we need to come together as a collective, become selfish and ugly at times. The individual within our community has become separate from the collective, our human rights that are centred around liberty and expression, have ultimately become rights that protect the individual and separate ‘us’ from the ‘rest’. Through individualistic ideologies, people have the tendency to only prioritise the immediate. Such an outlook neglects the welfare of the collective, and more broadly, overlooks gaining a larger perspective on the world around us.
As I witness the anti-lockdown protests and the posts that compare our restrictions with human rights violations, I can’t help but feel hopeless for our collective. Hopeless for the world and the ignorance that is held amongst us. Ignorance from privileged and entitled people that are vocal about their position within the world. Throwing around the claim of human rights abuses so freely, and lightly with no fear or ramification from their liberal and vocal complaints. Ironic right?
These people are fighting for a freedom that already exists in the fresh air they breathe, our ability to walk the streets, obtain an education, vote, the freedom to be vocal, have a roof over our heads and a warm place to live. The same people who neglect to go beyond their four walls, expand these emotions, and link it with the injustices forced upon many throughout the world. Injustices that constitute the classification of real human rights abuses.
The ironic part of all of this, is that these same people stay silent when it matters the most. Their silence is deafening when action is needed for others.
I can’t help but be disturbed and saddened at our behaviour when I see people taking to the streets or keyboards and claiming to fight for their freedom and protecting their human rights. This is a perfect example of privileged people, most commonly white individuals, creating the narrative to centre around their needs and immediate inconveniences. White people are quick to label themselves as oppressed, to centre the conversation and spotlight on situations that benefit them. Neglecting to look beyond their landscape and empathise with those in urgent need of support.
In conjunction with feelings of hopelessness, I can’t help but be angry, not just at people’s selfishness, ignorance, and neglect to look beyond their own position within this world, but also at the blatant disregard to link these feelings of ‘oppression’ with other experiences and current events that see so many people legitimately oppressed and discriminated against every single day.
In a country not too far from our own, Afghanis are being slaughtered by the Taliban, women and children face immediate danger. Lebanon is currently facing a devastating financial and economic collapse, with shortages to basic necessities such as food and medicine. Haiti, a country that has already encountered an incredible amount of political unrest and humanitarian crises, has recently been hit with a catastrophic earthquake. Palestinians continue to face persecution and unrest in Israel. Yemen is facing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with serious food shortages and children suffering from severe malnutrition. Syrians continue to suffer in a brutal civil war that has lasted a decade. Regions of Ethiopia are faced with genocide and mass starvation. The Chinese Government continues to place Uighurs in concentration camps. Iran’s COVID numbers continue to soar, and the death toll rises, with limited vaccines to meet the demand. Sri Lanka still remains a dangerous place for Tamil people due to the active repression of Tamil citizens. Cuba is faced with the worst economic crisis in 30 years and is currently facing a chronic shortage of food, power, and medicine. Political unrest continues in Myanmar, along with ethnic cleansing. Tibetans continue to face political oppression, violence, and persecution. While many more nations, cultures and ethnic groups throughout the world face persecution, injustices, and unrest each and every day.
(Some of this information has been sourced from @kurvd.instagram)
And even closer to home, Australia continues to inhumanely, and illegally, imprison refugees and asylum seekers indefinitely. Over this past year we have had just a miniscule taste into the reality of what refugees within our own country endure each and every day. Imprisoned indefinitely, stuck in a limbo of lockdown, some for over eight years. Those who have sought the very same freedom we so freely relish in, with or without COVID restrictions. Seeking a freedom from fear, from persecution and danger. A situation of pure destitution and fear most of us will never have to experience.
I’m furious with thought that people have been protesting their rights because they have to wear a mask and can’t visit the gym, when these innocent people have been suffering for years. Refugees forced into silence through the intimidation and bullying tactics curated by our vindictive government, who would rather abuse a handful of vulnerable people for political gain, than help them in their most desperate plea for help.
Where is the fight for freedom for these individuals? Where is the outrage?
The world is bleeding and yet those who hold an immense amount of privilege continue to magnify their own needs over others. They continue to place their wants and priorities above those who are in serious threat each and every day. People who continue to neglect to see beyond their own experiences and link their personal outrage with the experiences and abuses of others. Although our experiences and sufferings are all relative, which in return can be heightened and magnified, this cannot excuse our selective compassion and broader understanding and education of the world and those around us. Our limitations are a choice, and our blindness is nothing short of ignorance and complete selfishness. Privilege allows us the choice; however, we cannot pick and choose what human rights matter more.
I have written similar thoughts in a piece called ‘Empathy Shouldn’t be Selective’, stating,
“Despite the uncertainty of this situation and the fear that may ignite, we mustn’t forget that these sentiments will pass, and we will return to our normal lives of freedom and security. But, for many, a foreseeable safe future is not ahead of them. There is no certainty, no ‘normal’, and there is no security waiting for them at the end of a vaccine. These feelings are their everyday experiences, and they are fleeing from situations far more threatening than our situation of lockdown in the comfort of our own homes.”
With these sentiments, individuals have a responsibility to be aware of their privilege, even in times of struggle. This too shall pass, and we will regain normality, but for many, their experiences and destitution will never end, and life will never be the same.
Our position and privilege in this life is a product of sheer luck. We are not entitled to it, nor superior over anyone else. Of course, this is not to say that we cannot feel deflated during these times. But we mustn’t forget our position in life, and with that we must remember to stand up for others who face danger more broadly, beyond the realm of COVID and our own privileged perspectives.