Recently, an image began to circulate social media claiming that 8 black girls had gone missing in Washington, D.C. and that cases were getting no mainstream media coverage. Initially, there was some confusion over whether or not these specific cases were unusual or if they were just receiving an unusual amount of media coverage. As the internet ran with the image a common response was that this was actually the normal rate at which black and latina girls disappear. While this statement may be intended to decrease panic, it is nonetheless shocking that cases of missing latina or black girls receive significantly less media coverage than those of missing white girls. This article called this phenomenon the “Missing White Women Syndrome”, saying that “black people account for nearly 40 percent, while only making up 13 percent of the total population. The media coverage on the missing, however, is quite the opposite. The press is 4 times more likely to report when a white person goes missing vs. someone who is black or brown”. Essentially, the stories of missing white, upper middle class girls are covered more extensively by the media because white women are perceived as inherently innocent and more vulnerable. Missing girls of this race and socioeconomic bracket are covered much more than any other demographic because they are seen as more valuable in society’s eyes. This trend can have dangerous consequences as it makes missing black and latina girls less likely to be found, as civilians will not be on the lookout for them.
Thinking back on all the stories of missing women I had heard about growing up, I could not think of a single person of color who had captured the media and nation’s attention in the same way that Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard and Natalie Holloway had–white people saturate every aspect of media and this is no different as it turns out. Looking at this phenomenon within the context of this class, it fits with the historical trend of whiteness being heavily invested and subsequently heavily protected. If whiteness is used as a social indicator of value, then it is not difficult to see how this has translated into more resources being put into finding and protecting white women. While this may be the status quo, it is obviously a devastating and dangerous social shortcoming that is a consequence of institutionalized racism and something that, hopefully, is on the way to being corrected through the emerging power of social media.