In our nation’s capital region, DC and its suburbs, the divide is especially pronounced. Just before DC’s mayor and Virginia’s governor issued stay-at-home orders, practically all businesses had already shut down voluntarily. But I ventured out to the city one day and was surprised by what I saw: while the professionals had disappeared — the lobbyists and think-tankers and journalists and other non-essential workers — groundskeepers and maintenance staff were out in force, as many of them or even more than usual, tending to decorative greenery and the facades of the professionals’ buildings. I took the Metro, the DC subway, back home, and noticed that two things had changed. The trains were less crowded than normal but actually more crowded than they had been a week earlier: this was because the Metro system was running fewer trains, which logically enough meant that people who still had to go to work were packed onto the few that were still running. Those people who still had to go to work, or to use the Metro for other reasons, were not the white professional commuters, but mostly black and Hispanic service workers: maintenance men and others.
But if COVID-19 is so dangerous that people with six-figure incomes can’t go to work, why is it any less dangerous for non-whites who earn less than half as much? Why the hell were ferns still being planted outside ritzy office buildings? These workers were lucky to still have jobs, but their ongoing labor was a sign of just how selectively serious the professional classes really is about the disease. They get angry if anyone from their own class, or anyone in red-state America, doesn’t stay home and quiver to the appropriate wavelength of fear. But they evidently don’t think anything of people in the classes below them, not only the ones who are out of work but the ones who are still working just to keep up the appearances that are so beloved to the professional class. (God forbid some gray slab of masonry, steel, and glass should lack a fern or two to remind us that we’re all truly eco-sensitive.)