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Normalizing White Supremacy: How the Grand Rapids news media reported on air pollution report

June 6, 2018

In mid-April, the American Lung Association published their annual report on air quality rating for metro areas in the country. 

The Grand Rapids metro area ranked as tied for the 34th as the most polluted. According to the American Lung Association’s data for Kent County, the area received an F for Ozone, a B for Particle Pollution 24-hour and a PASS for Particle Pollution Annual. 

The American Lung Association data also states that there are certain people who are more at risk because of the poor air quality, such as those with asthma, people with lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, adults over 65 and those living in poverty. 

Interestingly enough, when Grand Rapids commercial media reported on this matter, the only focused on the fact that Grand Rapids was tied for 34th most polluted metro area. The WZZM 13 story made the city ranking its headline, while WOOD TV 8 focused on the F grading on Ozone.

Neither of the two major TV stations mentioned anything about which people are most at risk with the type of air quality we have in the greater Grand Rapids area.

The failure to report on who is most at risk with this new data from the American Lung Association is not just an oversight, it is a way that news media often normalize White Supremacy.

The reality is that there is a disproportionately higher number of African Americans who are at greater risk because of the air quality in Kent County, since the at risk categories listed by the American Lung Association disproportionately impact more African Americans.

According to a 2017 report from the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI), compared to White people, African Americans are at a higher risk of the following:








In addition, since the American Lung Association listed that poverty was another at risk category in terms of air quality, the graph below, once again, demonstrates that there is a disproportionate amount of African Americans, and communities of color in general, who are experiencing poverty. Another way to look at this is that roughly 80% of Kent County residents are White, yet communities of color account for roughly 88% of those living in poverty in Kent County, based on this graphic.

Therefore, not only is White Supremacy normalized in how the news media reports on critical issues like Public Health, White Supremacy is normalized within the very structures and systems which make up the greater Grand Rapids area.

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