Five points if you can recite the Pledge of Allegiance word for word without making a mistake. Ten points if you can also name the first three amendments to the constitution. If you are winning at this game so far, congratulations on successfully making it through the American public education system.
Whether we know it or not, these traits instill in us a deep sense of camaraderie and patriotism. As a nation, we are bred to the bone from a young age with certain fundamental American ideologies and an unshakable instinct to accessorize everything with our flag.
Our cowboy-like individualism and our many personal freedoms ground Americans in a common identity, but in light of COVID-19, they have also made it far too easy to neglect our social responsibilities. This American identity has given rise to the dangerous idea that our liberties are justified, even if they are exercised at the expense of others.
Texas lifted stay-at-home orders a day after reporting its highest single-day death toll. Yet, when I went grocery shopping on the day of the reopening, I drove past hordes of people crammed into the businesses that had reopened.
When I turned on the news, I was horrified to see images of people protesting restrictions in other states because they missed getting their hair and nails done or enjoying dine-in services at restaurants. Following in the footsteps of some of our most misguided leaders, millions of people are clamoring for the services they feel living in a “free country” entitles them to — never mind the fact that they are endangering the lives of others and themselves.
So there it is — maybe the stereotypes about Americans are true. For all our flag-waving and pledge-reciting, the responses of millions of people are showing that many of us believe that only a privileged few deserve to enjoy the benefits of liberty. While some are planning their next brunch outing, others are shouldering additional anxieties by putting themselves at risk as essential workers in these industries. These service industry workers may not have the resources to take care of themselves and their families if they got infected.
In response to criticism, the protestors selfishly wield this twisted definition of liberty as a shield against the real consequences of their actions. As friendly and loud as the rest of the world knows us to be, many of us are also living up to the negative caricature of being too ignorant and self-absorbed to take appropriate precautions for the sake of others’ safety. Now that the initial shock factor of the pandemic has worn off, soaring infection and death rates have just become inconsequential numbers that we can brush aside in efforts to soothe our restlessness.
However, rather than continue to reinforce these stereotypes, we can choose to uphold more humane notions of freedom.
Let us exercise our freedom to ignore the guidance of politicians who can afford to protect themselves from the worst of the disease while sacrificing workers who don’t have the same security. Let us choose to prioritize the advice of public health experts who ask that we adamantly limit social gatherings and interactions. For those of us who can, let us choose to use our privileges and resources to serve the members of our communities who are suffering.
This is not to say that we should reject our other notions of freedom. I am merely asking that you take yourself out of the center of the picture. Consider the mass deaths of senior citizens and the immunocompromised, the health care workers who spend sleepless nights terrified for their lives, the black and brown bodies that make up some of the most at-risk communities with the least access to health care.
These are the faces that represent the death toll that will continue to soar if you prioritize your own entertainment and desire for social outings. This is the cost of your boredom.
Maria Sailale is a first-year undeclared PACE major.