The Poor Are Being Forgotten: Why Do Certain Stories Go Viral And Others Get Ignored?

December 17, 2012  |  

Last week, two stories about black women getting fired from their jobs made the news, but only one of their firings really resonated with people.

The first was the story of Rhonda Lee, the black meteorologist who was fired for responding to comments about her ethnic hair, among other things, and the second story revolved around Dianne Brame, a black lunch lady in Missouri, who was fired for giving a needy student free lunch. Despite the almost identical arrival in the media, Lee’s story was the only one to go viral and receive real attention.

Well of course, you haven’t heard of the latter. But that’s my point. Anyway, here is the gist:

“Dianne Brame had worked in the cafeteria at Hudson Elementary in the Webster Groves School District for the last three years. This fall she noticed the family of a fourth grader on the free lunch program hadn’t renewed his eligibility and the child wasn’t coming to school with money to pay for lunch. Brame says the boy’s mother doesn’t speak English and probably couldn’t understand the paperwork.  Brame tells News Channel 5 the child was supposed to be reduced to a cheese sandwich and a carton of milk for lunch. But she worried he’d be made fun of by the other students.  So instead, Brame gave him regular meals, for free, for nearly two months. A co-worker caught on and alerted Chartwells, the food service provider for the Webster Groves School District. Brame says the company fired her on Tuesday.

Initially, Brame was given the option to be demoted and transferred to another school, but because of the financial difficulties acquired after the death of her husband, she didn’t have the transportation to get to her new site, so she was terminated. Brame readily acknowledges that she violated company policy, which says that only children enrolled officially into the program can receive regular free lunch; however, she said that morally it was the right thing to do to ensure that this kid continued receiving daily nutrition.

A few days after the story ran on one of the local stations, Brame was offered her old job back – under the condition that she would have to undergo mediation and a review of the company’s policy. However, there is a lot to be outraged about in this story. For instance, are we seriously firing people for feeding hungry children? And then accusing them of theft?  Also, what kind of hateful coworkers do we have in this world that will turn in a person for feeding said hungry children? And why do we have a two-tiered lunch system in America? No wonder bullying is such a huge problem in our schools. Cheese sandwiches? For real? Isn’t that what we feed prisoners?  And on a side note…are there not any fruits and vegetables? Here is a chance to talk about the impact that income inequality, immigration reform, governmental austerity measures and straight up bureaucracy have on people, but yet, this story failed to take wings.

Generally speaking, it is the poor, who not only suffer the worst in all social contexts, including racially and socio-economically, but find themselves routinely ignored by our national consciousness – unless of course, we are using them as statistics, or someone very capable does something to help the poor. When we do find ourselves outraged by stories from this section of society, it usually involves some scenario, in which they [the poor] are the perpetrators of some sort of atrocity or indignation as opposed to the victim. People like Brame are on the frontlines of how racism and classism affect the most vulnerable of society, the poor, and children, particularly poor children.  And yet when it comes to the –isms in our society, it is stories like Brame’s, which seem to stir our emotions the least. But it was the hair and firing of Rhonda Lee, that had people really talking. What’s up with people not seeming to care about the struggles going on with poor people every day?

Speaking of poor people, in November alone, there were 149 shootings in Chicago, most propagating from black and poor communities.  Hovering near 500 murders, Chicago has already eclipsed last year’s homicide rate and is expected to return to levels not seen since before 2008. In my enclave of Philadelphia, two teens shot into a crowded El train after a disagreement about – of all things – a Sixers game last Thursday night. But it would take the mass shooting murders of nearly 26 people – 20 of which were children – in Newtown, Connecticut, which occurred early Friday morning, for lawmakers in Washington to be inspired into action. Noting how our leadership only appears ready to act on gun control when the violence gets too close to their enclaves, Kelli Goff, of The Root, writes:

“After Columbine, some newly inspired gun-control activists, many of them upper-middle-class mothers from predominantly white communities, expressed regret to mothers of color for not being involved in the fight for gun control earlier, when gun violence claimed the lives of kids who didn’t grow up in leafy suburbs and whose deaths were not likely to garner extensive coverage on the nightly news. The activism ignited by Columbine resulted in more stringent gun control laws and more diligent enforcement of existing laws, particularly on the state level.”

And like clockwork, the Washington Post is reporting that several lawmakers in Washington are mulling over the idea to ban assault rifles in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. Unfortunately, for folks in metropolitan areas like Chicago, where revolvers and semi-automatic handguns are the weapon of choice in most crimes, a ban on assault rifles probably is not the gun control, or solution to the violence, that they were hoping for. But it puts some attention on a long overdue issue and that is a good thing…I guess.

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