It’s been a particularly infuriating week when it comes to Rich People Doing Dumb Things.
Like most households on week five of Level Four, going to the supermarket has become something of a bubble highlight and so we’ve been saving it up for Saturday nights, just to feel something (even if only one of us is allowed in!). The flat we rent is in a very wealthy suburb of Auckland and the general attitude here is that Covid-19 is someone else’s problem, so mask wearing is seen – like most other pandemic preventions – as a choice.
When this latest outbreak was kick-started in Devonport and the Coromandel, there was an initial hope that maybe a certain pocket of rich, entitled Aucklanders would start to take this pandemic seriously (not to generalise but… you know). Maybe they wouldn’t revert back to complaining about the economy. Maybe they wouldn’t trash our scientists and talk about their own vaccination research! Maybe they would accept that they, too, were part of the team of five million and couldn’t rely on the luxurious buffer of wealth and holiday homes any more.
Maybe entitled Aucklanders would accept that they, too, were part of the team of five million and couldn’t rely on the luxurious buffer of wealth and holiday homes any more.
Four weeks later, here we are. The rules do not apply to everyone, apparently. On this particular supermarket trip, I became aware of a person wearing a paper bag over their head with eyeholes cut out of them. It turns out my husband Shahab had seen them heading into the store from the carpark and his initial reaction was to think ‘oh that poor person can’t afford a mask, that’s so hard.’ Shahab is a good, kind person who assumes the best in people. Somewhere in the past nineteenth months, that instinct in me has withered.
I assumed they were trouble, because years of working in retail has made me very attuned to the particular tone that some people use when speaking to someone behind the counter. If you’ve worked in either retail or hospo, you’ll know what I mean. It’s the tone that says ‘you are stupid and I am right and you are beneath me.’ From beneath the crinkled edges of the Paper Bag Princess, I could hear that tone – loud and clear.
I’ll say it – it’s actually quite terrifying to be at a supermarket checkout, less than 10 feet away from someone wearing a bag over their head with eyeholes cut out. I felt it, and I know the people working in the supermarket did too – the manager was doing very nervous glances, the body language of the check-out operator was tense. We are, of course, just a few weeks past a knife attack at a supermarket in West Auckland.
As the Paper Bag Princess walked past me, I saw that they had stickers reading ‘Voices For Freedom’ stuck to it and I thought, ‘Of course.’ There’s nothing like the perverse pleasure of realising that your low expectations of someone have been proven correct. Their car was parked close to ours and so we both got to see the great reveal up close. As they approached their $70k sports car, they pulled off their paper bag and guess what? It was a white woman. I later googled Voices For Freedom and you’ll be completely unsurprised to learn that they are an anti-vax group. Of course they are!
It’s just that it’s been a particularly infuriating week when it comes to Rich People Doing Dumb Things – there’s a reason why we were so glued to the coverage of the couple that misused their essential worker pass and went to Wānāka, because we knew the end of the story before we even got there.
I know I’m very much generalising here about wealthy Aucklanders and I’m sure the absolute majority of them are sticking to the rules. It’s just that it’s been a particularly infuriating week when it comes to Rich People Doing Dumb Things – there’s a reason why we were so glued to the coverage of the couple that misused their essential worker pass and went to Wānāka, because we knew the end of the story before we even got there. We assumed they would be privileged – there’s nothing like the term ‘holiday home’ to make that clear – and we assumed that, despite their flagrant behaviour, they would probably go unpunished. The rules are different for rich people and boy, don’t some of them know it?
Now there’s the person in the private plane. There’s the person who faked ‘essential worker’ documents. There’s the driveway drinks. They’ve got the money buffer. The pandemic is an inconvenience but the rules to protect us are just as bad, in their eyes. Why shouldn’t they skip out to a holiday home, because they can? Why should they wear a mask? Why should they have to ‘LiStEn to the GoVErnMNT, thEir LYinG to US’? Why shouldn’t they cut eyeholes out of a bag and wear it in protest, harass the essential workers putting food on their table and nip off home in their sassy little sports car? Nothing says Voices For Freedom like knowing you’ve got the money to get away with anything.
Never mind the fact that there have been multiple non-white people who have breached the rules and been arrested for it immediately, because they don’t have a QC as a parent. Never mind that South Auckland gets the generalised treatment by the media every time we go into lockdown, no matter where the outbreak started. The idea of equality isn’t just about who gets opportunities, it’s about who gets second chances. And when you’re wealthy, you get so many. It’s not your pandemic, after all. It’s someone else’s problem.