The British and American media have been dominated by headlines that black and ethnic minority people are dying disproportionately from Covid-19. That is a crass and gross misrepresentation.
The British media has been carrying headlines about the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black and ethnic minority people. In the US, similar stories have dominated most news networks, especially in Chicago where 70% of those who have died from Covid-19 are black. These developments are worrying, not for the reasons the media is telling us but for the hidden, incendiary implications for communities of colour, not just during the current pandemic but in future. The coverage of these topics points to three worrying things. First, that the media is now only interested in sensationalism, not truth and balance. Second is that there is a systematic knee-jerk reaction to blame and associate people of colour with negative news. Third, it shows the complete disregard for and lack of knowledge about statistics.
Let's tackle the last point first. Just because 70% of people who die from coronavirus are black whereas black people only make 30% of the population is not odd or an anomaly in itself, not unless it’s cherry-picked and dropped out of context. Only people without basic knowledge of statistics can be forgiven for thinking that is odd. But media companies have money and can afford to hire qualified statisticians. I believe they do in most cases. So why not hire a statistician or an economist or anyone with a sense of balance to look at the "data" and ask them to explain what the statistics actually mean?
Just because black people make 30% doesn't mean that 30 is the percentage of black people that should be dying from Covid-19. There are reasons that people of all colours and race die from Covid-19. Age and underlying illnesses are the biggest reasons. In statistics you call these "variables". So, a statistician, any statistician with a gram of brain matter, will 'treat' the data for those variables. In simple terms that means putting in one room all the bodies of those who die of Covid-19 and are old and have underlying illnesses regardless of their race or ethnicity. And I mean this metaphorically, not literally of course. Then you look at the remaining bodies, if any, and check if there are more black and brown people than white people.
By doing that, what you are trying to find out is how many people died of Covid-19 simply because they are black or brown. I haven't done any research on that, but I can safely tell you, the answer is NONE. Once you remove those who died due to well-documented vulnerabilities, of which race is not one, there won’t be any people left, and the few remaining one will not be mostly black and brown. I can guarantee you that.
The media is being irresponsible by not explaining this seeming “disparity” between the percentage of ethnic minorities and the percentage of those dying from Covid-19. The data suggests that black people, especially in the USA have more underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease than white people. And that is not because they are black. That is a result of centuries of economic and social disempowerment, which impacts their incomes, diets, healthcare, and lifestyles. The real question therefore is not why black people in Chicago are being killed disproportionately by Covid-19 but why they suffer these underlying problems disproportionately.
The real question therefore is not why black people are being killed disproportionately by Covid-19 but why they suffer many underlying problems disproportionately.
The third issue is that the media coverage is not asking the right questions (about the economic and social injustices that leave black people and ethnic minority people vulnerable to many underlying health problems), instead, they are pointing out what they think is a statistical anomaly but one that is clearly not. Given the percentages of black and ethnic minorities with underlying health issues, the proportions of deaths from coronavirus are more or less what one would expect, statistically. There is nothing anomalous about sick people dying from a nasty respiratory infection. And if most of those sick people are black or brown, then clearly they will make the majority of dead people. It's not rocket science.
In the UK, there are areas where mang generations live under one roof – grandparents, parents, kids, grand kids. In those situations, the grandparents are at higher risk due to increased exposure to potentially infected young people. There is nothing inherent in people of Bangladesh decent that makes them susceptible to Covid-19. And yet the media will have you believe they are “statistically likely to die” from the disease.
But the most incendiary implication of the way the media is covering the topic is that it creates and perpetuates a false narrative, a narrative that associates black and brown people to something negative. The media should cover these stories responsibly and help the public to understand. It is their ethical duty and responsibility. The main story, the headline should be that Covid-19 has exposed the deep-seated inequalities and economic and social injustices at the core of our capitalist system. And that something needs to be done to redress the matter.