Coming from the Shadows

April 24, 2020

 

It happens every semester. Students see, for the first time for many, the "ghosts," the invisible ones whose labor supports their daily lives. Reading Jeanne Marie Laska's reports about living conditions at a migrant camp of blueberry pickers is sobering,  enlightening, and painful. Stories about laborers who are afraid to seek medical help when it is clearly necessary, who have no access to indoor plumbing. About the seven-year-old child who cares for the seven-month-old infant back in the camp while the parents are in the field.

 

One student says - I will never pick up a pack of blueberries without seeing those people. Another - I will honor them with every bite. We are all connected in ways that we don't always understand.

 

If we didn't get the whole "everything is connected" idea before the pandemic, we surely get it now. Interconnection. Interdependence. And invisibility of many essential parts of the connected web.

 

We clap and howl and sing for many people who are on the front lines during this crisis time, those who are risking their own (and their loved ones') lives. The medical personnel. First responders. Custodial staff, grocery workers, public transit operators. We appreciate others who are helping to support us in many ways - teachers, food bank organizers, postal workers, and many others too many to name. We clap and howl and sing for them, as we should.

 

Who is missing in our daily offerings of gratitude? There are millions who labor in the shadows to support us, in crisis times and in every day life. Like the blueberry and orange and lettuce pickers and packers. The workers at meat and poultry processing plants. Those whose work is behind the sweatpants and t-shirts we wear while "staying at home," or the dress we order to wear when "this is all over."

 

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild reminds us.

 

"The dress is sewn of cotton grown on the western plains of India, let us say, and harvested by underpaid laborers who are exposed to pesticides... Invisible are the workers who plant, irrigate, pick, clean, compress, tag, store, and bale the cotton and truck it to factories where it is spun, woven, dyed, and shipped as bolts of cloth to be then cut and sewn into dresses by workers in overcrowded backstage factories in Bangladesh. It is then tagged, wrapped, and shipped to stores where dresses are unpacked, priced, shelved, hung, and sold." 

 

Invisible are the workers.

 

Some say we are living in an apocalyptic time. Greek roots of the word apocalypse include "uncovering, revealing." What and who is being revealed?

 

Look.

 

Look closely at our fellow humans - their bodies, their beating hearts and aching backs. Their joys and concerns, wishes and needs. Their souls. Behold our kin.

 

This is the perfect opportunity to dig deep to understand this web of interconnection and interdependence and invisibility. And to understand our responsibility to see. Really, really see so that we can value their lives as much as we value our own with our support of rights to health care, living wages, housing, education, safety. This is the moment.

 

 

 

 

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©2018 by Mary Beth Mannarino, Ph.D.