Disaster, even when collective and universal, is individual. One of the major ways in which experiences of disaster become differentiated at the individual level is through mediators such as occupation, wealth, race, and built environment. Even when disaster “ends” at the collective and universal levels, it can persist at the individual level because differences in socioeconomic status make resilience far more difficult for some than for others.

I was inspired to create this paper collage, following the style of American artist Romare Bearden, after reading newspaper articles describing–and personally witnessing–the mass exodus of individuals of high socioeconomic status from New York City in an effort to avoid the impacts of COVID-19 and George Floyd/Police Brutality Protests. The short lyrical piece that accompanies the paper collage follows the style of American poet and essayist Claudia Rankine. It serves as a possible narration for the collage.

From the outset, I never intended to share this collage or lyrical piece with anyone other than myself. They were personal exercises in turning inwards to examine my own positions of privilege, and how I might leverage them to serve others, during this disastrous time. I am sharing these pieces in the hope that others are encouraged to do so as well. In the end, our lives are all interconnected – a disaster for some of us is a disaster for all of us.

You want to go outside. But you cannot. The yellow metro card sitting on your kitchen table is a reminder of a past life. You want to leave this city whose lights glisten through your window. But you cannot.  

Why not? asks a member of your church over the phone. She is calling from her property upstate. You can tell from the clarity of her voice that she isn’t wearing a mask. She doesn’t need to.

Because I just can’t, you say.

Yes, you can, she says. All you have to do is pack up and leave the city.  

No, I really can’t, you reply.

You consider telling her the truth – that you can’t leave because you have nowhere to go. And even if you did have someplace, your boss expects to see you on Monday. And the kids need new clothes, and you still owe Sallie Mae, and if you leave there will be no one left to protest.

You want to share this with her. You want her to understand. But she cannot. And you cannot.

Author Bio

Karla Ganley is currently pursuing an MSc in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. She is a health systems researcher who specializes in access to care among marginalized populations. Previously, Karla obtained her Master of Public Health in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and her Master of Public Administration in Economic & Political Development from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Prior to that, Karla received a BA in Biology and German Studies from Brown University. 


#marginalization #class #race #disaster