Missing White women provide media outlets provocative pages, profit margins and promote clutched Kleenex camaraderie. It often takes unconventional methods and cultural criticism to spark national concern for missing people of color.
A few years ago, the National Public Radio Association reported that of 800,000 missing children, more than 30 percent are African-American.
Most remain nameless Black losses, unable to pique an ignorant public’s interest.
While the recent case of missing Baltimore native and A-student, Phylicia Barnes, is finally beginning to receive the coverage that it deserves, she remains an example of biases.
She is a missing Black minor whose story isn’t as readily offered sympathy- and action as her White counterparts’ stories receive.
Barnes went missing on December 28. Her family sought as much media coverage as possible.
Her mother told media outlets that the first two days of her disappearance were critical and did not receive the necessary attention.
The e-community championed her cause.
Numerous Twitter users “hashtagged” Barnes’ name and made her a trending topic ( a searchable topic for tweeters).
Barnes remains a recurring face on many Black blogs.
In the not-so-post-racial America that just celebrated civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, we are left with bitter racial realities.
Society does not value human life equally. Victims who are of Caucasian descent and wield socioeconomic power, especially women, become epic tragedies and household names.
Victims who fall into alternate boxes are often left as footnotes.
This is true for people of color; but, it is also the case for male victims.
A catchy phrase captures the essence of prejudicial concern.
The phrase “Missing White woman syndrome” (MWWS) is credited to University of Maryland Associate American Studies Professor Sheri Parks.
MWWS refers to the unfair priority that many of these women’s cases receive.
Without negating the horror of anyone’s victimization, the media does lick its chops at the opportunity to feast in ratings and readership about White victims frequently deemed “damsels.”
Reporters often explore the idea that these missing White women are beautiful, and as such, a more sympathetic story. (Westernized aesthetic ideals are for another day.)
Natalee Holloway and Laci Peterson’s tales are known.
Tamika Huston’s murder is lesser known. Shameka Landrum is still missing from Mobile.
Are these stories the result of skewed reporting or are they mere happenstance?
Community members, news media experts and cultural academics believe the former.
“It’s stunning sometimes how hard it is to get the national media interested when it’s a minority,” said Philip Lerman, co-executive producer of America’s Most Wanted and a former editor at USA TODAY in an article for the news site.
Some credit lackluster newsroom diversity with casuing racial disparities in coverage of missing people.
In 2008, The American Society of Newspaper Editors estimated that newsrooms consist of only 13 percent minorities.
This is relevant because people tend to gravitate to stories in which they relate.
And in rooms with less heavily pigmented people, sometimes our stories meet backspace buttons, spam folders and/or silent tongues.
Racially homogeneous writers, reporters and editors sometimes leave people of color to fend (read: fight) for ourselves, and our coverage.
Individuals with information about Barnes’ whereabouts are asked to contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST).
Editor-in-chief Imani Jackson is a senior mass communication major from Jacksonville, Fla.