By Howard A. Myrick
all local.” So goes the familiar expression about politics. It is a truism that
applies (or should apply) also to news analysis and reporting in the …
By Howard A. Myrick
“It’s all local.” So goes the familiar expression about politics. It is a truism that applies (or should apply) also to news analysis and reporting in the mass media.
In the context of our current lives, it is true in numerous other important areas. Think of the coronavirus pandemic: The news headlines in all the media from the national level and, indeed, from around the world, has direct relevance to humans everywhere. Think about wars occurring in various and remote parts of the world and how they trigger reactions and consequences far beyond their borders, creating refugee problems exceeding those experienced in World War I and II – attended by tragic levels of hunger and various other types of human suffering.
Regarding coronavirus, yes, it did originate in some other country. But now it is here (and everywhere) full-blown and spreading in our country at rates, in both infections and deaths, exceeding numerous other countries, including some that are far less developed. The international character of the pandemic has morphed into regional and local disasters. Local headlines now mirror what formerly were relegated to the foreign sections of the media. It’s now all local.
Early in the appearance of Covid-19 in the US, it was expected and touted by some high-level political leaders (not scientists) that it would soon go away. As it began to take hold, there arose the notion that it would affect mostly the elderly and persons with pre-existing health conditions. There were assertions that certain people, especially ethnic and racial minorities, were predisposed to Covid-19 – genetically so. This latter belief persisted even after the evidence of high incidence of infections among younger age groups of all races.
What has become evident (in the medical sector, at least): just as the virus has no respect for international borders, it has no respect for different racial groups and it does not stop at or respect zip codes (accept for the coincidence of certain other socio-economic conditions associated with certain zip codes). The “certain other socio-economic factors” relate to the kinds of jobs predominantly held by residents in certain zip codes versus those performed by residents in other zip codes. Household population density, multi-generational occupancy of households, family income, availability of affordable health insurance, etc., are some of the certain other factors.
There is a known historical fact (stated here with no intent to play the “victimhood game”) that bad things or comparatively worse things happen to people who live in communities that pay less taxes, exercise less political influence, whose children attend schools that are less-funded and perform more poorly. A tragic example of the correlation between zip code and quality of life is reflected in data recorded in one Florida city, a change of socio-economic status from one zip code to another resulted in a 13-year difference in life expectancy. The fact that the poorer community was predominantly African American and the other relatively more affluent community was white is only coincidental to other factors related to historical race-related discrimination and associated disparities. This, too, is a subject that still needs to be analyzed and reported through both the national and local media lens.
In addition to the gap in socio-economic status of Black and white communities, people in the lower economic strata of our society tend to be employed in service-sector jobs that cannot be performed from home during a pandemic lockdown. They are the delivery personnel, food handlers, health care facilities maintenance and sanitation people. They are the caregivers in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. In so many ways they are the “essential workers” without whom our communities and economy would not function.
The local story now (as it should have been all along) should be about the unprotected communities, the working class and the poor of every complexion, racial and ethnic group. Living with an acceptance of the fact that there is a disproportionate number of these communities defined as “people of color” is not an acceptable situation – for anyone. The ills endured by them, including COVID-19, do not stop at the zip code line – just as they don’t respond to international borders.
The lesson(s): We cannot (whatever our socio-economic, racial, or other definers) afford to be unmindful of those around us, irrespective of socio-economic status. The less-fortunate, the poor, the disenfranchised people are the ones most likely providing the essential services and the taken-for granted functions. We have but to ask ourselves: do we want food on the grocery store shelves and on our tables; our packages delivered; streets cleaned, garbage collected; do we want to be and stay healthy? The answer, in brief: classism and racism are twin toxins in our society and globally, nationally and locally.
Howard A. Myrick, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, Temple University, Lew Klein College of Media and Communication. He lives in Mt. Airy.