The Danger of Numbers

In Molly’s essay she wrote about how she struggled to gather her thinking to respond to the prompt. She stated, “I felt as if I wasn’t noticing anything closely enough to construct a strong essay, so I decided to wait, give myself some time, and read what other classmates were thinking in their essays.” I found myself stuck in this situation also, but as Emily’s writing inspired Molly’s, Maria’s helped me focus on what I wanted to write about too. Maria wrote about how human lives should not be equated to simple statistics. She said that “each one of these numbers is a full human being with a story to tell.” As I was reading her essay, I realized that this history of treating people as numbers has been disturbing me too. 

During this time of the covid-19 pandemic, numbers are being thrown in our faces every day. Each day there are more cases, more people that are hospitalized, and more people that have died. I think when reporting news, we like to use numbers as a tool to understand what is happening, and while numbers can help understand one piece of the situation, I don’t think they are sufficient enough to show us the whole picture. Personally, I struggle to visualize a group larger than 50 people, so my brain definitely can’t grasp thousands, or millions of people. As Maria said, each of these people have lived their own stories within the larger story of our world. If we only view these people in large numbers, it’s difficult to see them as people, which makes it harder to care and understand. 

In Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, what stood out to me as one of the main themes of the story is Florens’ inability to understand why her mother gave her up. The reader can infer the reason why as an outsider of the situation, but Florens lacks the tools to understand. The only reason this expulsion was able to occur was because Jacob Vaark needed a slave, and it didn’t matter who it was because slaves were generally not viewed as human beings. Florens and her mother were just two slaves of many; they were treated as numbers. I believe Florens’ mother took advantage of this situation and gave up her daughter instead because she needed to look after her son who was younger and needed her more. There was no way for Florens to understand this though, because she did not have the chance to speak to ask her mother about it before she was taken away. I think the tool Florens was lacking was simply her mother. She needed her mother to explain why.

This example from A Mercy of how Florens was expelled because she was viewed as a number made me think about Hurricane Katrina. Approximately 200,000 people were displaced from their homes because of Hurricane Katrina, and while this expulsion was due to the storm that flooded their homes, the heartless response of the government is what made it so they could never return to their homes.  They barely provided any funding for relief of the situation, and I think it’s easier for the government to do this when they think about these people who had their lives uprooted as mere numbers. I think individual stories are necessary to make people care, and of course there are organizations such as ACORN who do care, but they can only do so much. Mr. Gettridge’s story gave me the tools to understand the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as a whole a little better. I had this same experience with The Turner House and A Mercy in helping me understand the financial crisis and slavery, even though they were fiction. Numbers, such as the 200,000 people that were displaced by Katrina shock me, but these individual stories are really what helps me understand. 

On a smaller scale, what has really helped me understand what we have been learning about in this course has been my classmates. Molly and I both had the experience of needing help from our peers to motivate our thinking, and I believe this shows how important it is that we are not viewed as just numbers in a larger group of people, but as human beings who can equip one another with the tools to interpret things that we cannot interpret alone.

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