The new appreciation of previously dismissed types of work may be short lived, and their ongoing fight for a living wage is certainly not won. However, this crisis has opened a space in which broader conversations about the value of the work of someone like Rose may become unavoidable. If the lessons of these hotels are to be translated to national politics, it is that we cannot afford to return to the pre-COVID economy that tolerated people like Rose not receiving a living wage and rough sleepers lining Auckland Queen Street while warm rooms and homes sit empty.
Being of South-East Asian background growing up in Australia, these types of comments are not something unfamiliar to me. I have grappled with race and culture many times and I expect that battle to continue long into the future. It’s not the comparisons that bother me. It’s not about the person I’m being compared to. It’s the fact that I’m even being compared. That I’m not me, but rather I am reduced to how I look or who I resemble. I don’t get to define myself anymore. That’s the part that bothers me. After all, it happens to everyone, right? It is the casual nature of these comments which makes it so problematic. It has become so normalised and so easy to dismiss that I don’t feel like I have a choice to even bring it up.
COVID-19 has prompted a renewed awareness of how we use our bodies under “normal” circumstances. COVID-19 is also demanding that we change our bodily behaviors to prevent the spread of the pandemic. This entails both transforming existing techniques and learning new ones. These hygienic practices are all part of a particular set of bodily techniques that Marcel Mauss called “care of the body,” or prescribed, everyday physical acts that serve to maintain the well-being of individuals and to affirm their belonging within broader social communities.
Yesterday, I started an email to my supervisor with the opener “I am wearing shoes today and it seems to make me more productive. How’s it going in your kitchen-office?”