Instagram Live Town Hall: COVID-19 Racial Disparity in the African American Community

by Shakilya Lawrence

Last Thursday, April 30th, ABC7NY/WABC-TV New York held a virtual town hall via Instagram Live to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in the African American community as a result of Covid-19.

It's been almost two months since the coronavirus has taken hold of the U.S. causing the country to go into a nationwide shutdown. New York quickly became the country's and eventually the world's newest epicenter for the virus. The state alone accounts for a little over a quarter of the cases in the U.S. with over 337,000 reported cases as of May 7th—more than any other country in the world. The number of cases skyrocketed due to two major factors: the delay in the U.S. shutting down the country and the fact that New York City is the largest and most densely populated metropolitan area in the U.S.

As more data came out about the virus and who it was impacting, it became apparent that the African American community was being affected at a disproportionate rate. Research shows that although African Americans make up only 13.4% of the U.S. population, they accounted for more than half of the Covid-19 cases and nearly 60% of deaths in counties that had higher black populations. Regarding New York City specifically, a shocking report covered by WABC revealed that Covid-19 was disproportionately affecting communities of color with African Americans accounting for 28% of coronavirus deaths despite only making up 22% of the city's population.

The town hall last week—hosted by eyewitness news reporter Darla Miles—served as a space to discuss the socioeconomic factors of why this was occurring, offer guidance and solutions, and to allow people a chance to ask the panel of experts and influencers questions. Each focused on a specific area that helped answer questions and offer insight.

The town hall panel consisted of:

● Tanya Christian - ESSENCE News & Politics Editor

● Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News Chief Correspondent

● Claire Sulmers, CEO, Fashion Bomb Daily

● Gregg Bishop, NYC Commissioner of Small Business Services

The hour-long event began with Tanya Christian, who specifically was addressing disparities and challenges within the black community as a result of the coronavirus. She spoke about her article "What the Spread of Coronavirus Means For Black Communities", which talked about the implications the black community had to face as a result of the pandemic. She explained how only 1 in 5 African Americans had a job where they could take time off without penalty or fear of missing out on income. She also addressed how lack of health benefits and access to medical professionals in rural areas within the black community were other major factors in the disparities seen as a result of Covid-19. One of her last major talking points, asked by Darla, discussed the cultural dynamics involved in the transition towards understanding within the black community that the coronavirus was affecting us as well.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton provided medical information on Covid-19, discussing the most updated information on testing, tracing, treatments, and vaccine testing. Her segment gave viewers transparency to where the nation currently stood with combating the virus, debunked myths about the virus, and explained unknowns the medical field still faces with the coronavirus.

Claire Sulmers addressed the effect of social media on the African American community during this pandemic. As a pioneering influencer, she was able to give insight into the mixed messaging seen on social media—through funny memes or jokes—can lead to confusion and spread misinformation about the virus within the African American community. She mentioned this can be combated by content creators researching spreading information and answering questions about Covid-19 on their platforms. However, the best tactic is to always refer people to news outlets and health pages like the CDC.

Gregg Bishop's segment was last and was one of the most anticipated (outside of Dr. Ashton's segment). The commissioner gave advice, clarity, and resources to small business owners and entrepreneurs to help them better adapt to the country's new economic landscape. He went in-depth about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), highlighting what small business owners needed to do to secure money for their businesses. He also talked about the prevalence of systemic racism within the financial market and how the Small Business Association Business combating this as the second wave of money hit the PPP.

Overall the town hall provided much-needed information to the public—both medical and financial—about the virus itself, debunked common misconceptions of the coronavirus with the black community, and was valuable in understanding the disparities the African American community faces. However, the limited time frame—about 10 minutes per person—didn't leave much room for viewers to be able to get their questions answered. Viewers flooded the comments and the Instagram Live question box where only a couple of them were answered.

With the pandemic ushering us into a new normal, virtual town halls might become the standard at least until we can safely hold large gatherings again. Moving forward, hopefully, virtual town halls can allow for more audience feedback to help further drive the conversation. All-in-all, this was a great glimpse into how media outlets are combating barriers of social distancing by using the interconnectedness of social media.

Highlights from the town hall can be watched on the link below.

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