Think differently

2019/2020

07 April

Social distancing – a critical look at the discriminatory context

At first glance, the virus renders all of us equal. Everyone can be infected and fall ill. The virus makes no distinction between rich and poor. It’s not interested in origins, skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, nor in any forms of
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07/04/2020

Social distancing – a critical look at the discriminatory context

At first glance, the virus renders all of us equal. Everyone can be infected and fall ill. The virus makes no distinction between rich and poor. It’s not interested in origins, skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, nor in any forms of disability.
Precisely because certain at-risk groups like the elderly and those suffering from pre-existing illnesses are particularly endangered, all of us – including those who are hardly at risk themselves – are called upon to make their own contributions towards containing the spread of the virus. The crisis affects "us", meaning everyone. But is it affecting all of us equally? In our daily work, we are experiencing that the measures being taken equally for everyone have highly disparate effects for everyone. The virus doesn’t make us more equal. It magnifies existing inequities.

"Stay-at-home" appeals, quarantine measures, bans on social encounters, and lockdowns do not have identical consequences for all people. The withdrawal of public spaces, in particular, has highly disparate significance for different groupings.

For us the paramount question is this: what can we do in order now not to have to leave alone people affected by discrimination, with some of whom we have been working harmoniously for many years? Young people who have experienced discrimination, in particular, who collaborate in our youth project TALK, for example, and often describe this as a "family", have frequently experienced how relationships are broken off, trust is abused; they feel abandoned and not understood. We do not want to repeat these experiences with a complete withdrawal blamed on the virus. Some groups, in the life of people who have experienced discrimination, possess the significance of a family, because the original families are often places of violence, of incomprehension and of ostracism. Which is why we are seeking options for caring, for interpersonal contact, for ways to render our affection and our love perceptible to them.

Nor can these contradictions be resolved in the evaluation of public-sector measures on a municipal or governmental level. But it does make a difference whether in the formulation of the measures concerned disparate perspectives and heterogenous life situations are conceptually addressed, taken into due account as far as possible, and where this is not possible are at least communicated. At first glance, it seems reasonable that as soon as child day care centers and schools are closed, playgrounds are also cordoned off, otherwise the encounters and possible infections would merely be relocated. Would it not also be conceivable to adopt a more differentiated approach to closing the playgrounds? Could, for instance, staff from schools or child day care centers also be deployed to regulate access in accordance with social needs, and to organize the arrangements concerned so as to ensure that the risk of infection is minimized? Would similar arrangements not be conceivable in public spaces? The simple approach would appear to be treating everyone equally. Exceptions entail conflicts, need to be negotiated and agreed. But treating everybody the same is often only ostensibly fair.

Solutions of this kind involving a restricted opening of public spaces would also be conceivable in categories of youth-related social work. Instead of imposing on mobile youth work and street work a ban on public gatherings, they could be allowed to make cautious contact with the young people, so as to acquire an initial idea of the exigencies they may be facing.

Physical distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Solidarity is imperative, and can also be observed in an incredible number of creative initiatives. This is encouraging. Solidarity means action! Solidarity means thinking not only of yourself, and not thinking and acting from your own perspective. Solidarity means looking after everyone’s well-being, in different situational circumstances, and listening carefully to what people say and to any requests or calls for help. Solidarity is a collective matter. This means in a first step acting to counter solitude, loneliness and isolation. No man is an island. In a crisis at the latest, it becomes clear that the neo-liberal "individual" cannot survive alone. We can master the social challenges involved only together in solidarity.

The power-sharing approach can help us to include in our thoughts all those who may easily slip through the net. This can, for example, mean providing alternative public spaces with safe distancing and hygiene options for people to relax, to experience non-violence, to enjoy mutual feedback with likeminded people, to experience a sense of community. We can render audible the voices of people who are insufficiently listened to. We can render visible groups that are being forgotten in the context of neighborly help. Now of all times we must not forget the victims of Hanau. We can keep in our thoughts the need to protect the human dignity of refugees at the outer borders of Europe.

The crisis is affecting all of us, but it’s not affecting all of us equally. If our solidarity deals compensatively with these powerful disparities and at the same time rejects a blinkered nationalistic mindset, then the ongoing crisis also provides an opportunity. In conclusion, here in Tübingen, on the 250th anniversary of his birth, it would seem not inapposite to quote Friedrich Hölderlin: "Where there is danger, salvation grows too!"


This text is a short version of the article "Social Distancing vor dem Hintergrund sozialer Ausgrenzung - Diskriminierungskritische Fragen und Quergedanken zum Umgang mit der Corona-Krise" published on March 24, 2020, jointly written by team colleagues of adis e.V., Tübingen (Germany).