The tragic death of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman, has aroused global outcry, online sleuths, and a million speculations. As unfortunate as it is, Gabby’s situation also points to the fact that if Gabby had not been an attractive, young, white woman, her incident would not have gotten the coverage it did. This tragic truth is part of a much broader problem known as ‘missing white woman syndrome,’ which highlights how missing white women are far more probable compared to missing black girls to be the target of national media coverage.
There is more than one explanation for why missing black girls get no media attention. To begin with, their families are reluctant to contact the authorities even if they believe their girl is missing. According to Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, ‘there is a level of mistrust between law enforcement and the black community.’ This mistrust translates to a quiet culture of ‘no snitching.’ Furthermore, some families fear the unforeseen and undesirable consequences of reporting, such as the deportation of their undocumented family members.
For some families, the limitation of financial resources to respond effectively after their girl goes missing might be another reason why missing black girls receive no media coverage. They may be unable to hire a private investigator or take time off work to assist in the search for their kid and follow it up with police and the media. In other circumstances, people may be at crossroads for what to do.
Above all, and perhaps the most significant reason missing black girls go unreported on the media is that they are termed as runaways. Unlike the common belief that missing children are only those kidnapped by strangers, some are youngsters who feel home willingly or after being enticed by somebody else. Whereas running away from home is not unique to black girls, they are especially vulnerable.
Black girls’ lives matter. Our girls are entitled to support and protection, yet the culture appears content to neglect or demean them at the very worst. For this reason, organizations such as the Black and Missing Foundation have stepped in to help families of color file police reports, develop missing posters, and spread awareness about their girls who have gone missing.