At the Unity: Journalists of Color Conference in 2004, deceased Gwen Ifill invented the concept of “missing white woman’s syndrome”.” While attending the conference’s Media Coverage of National Security ‘panel, Ifill commented “If there’s a missing white woman, you’ll cover it every day.”
The truth of this statement has been loud ever since, and although we can not say that significant progress has been made in the media in terms of covering our missing brothers and sisters, there is one thing that have been noticeable, the media is obsessed with their own neglect. The latest in this false wave of accountability comes from the HBO powerhouse, which recently released the ‘Black and Missing’ documentary series.
As described by the network, the four-part documentary follows the founders of the Black and Missing Foundation, Derrica and Natalie Wilson, as they “fight a battle uphill to raise awareness of cases of the black missing persons marginalized by law enforcement and national media.”
The show revisits the cases of Tameka Hutson, Keeshae Jacobs and Pamela Butler to name a few, and attempts to investigate why their disappearance among so many others never received national media attention.
In the second episode of the four-part series, Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, claims that “This is part of the available kind of life in our country – that two people can disappear at the same time and the whole nation focuses on the white person.”
He went on to say that “If you’ve been bombarded all your life with messages and pictures of black people who are poor, down, out, dangerous – it’s no surprise that when a black person is in need, missed, murdered, it’s not a big deal for much of the white community because they do not think we have much to lose.
This has always been the case, and the lack of media attention only exacerbates this false narrative.
Janell Johnson-Dash, mother of Mishell-Nicole DiAmonde Green, who disappeared in 2011, is also in the program.
“It’s not easy to get exposure to a missing colored child,” Johnson-Dash told HBO. She was eventually linked to the daytime talk show host and legendary actress, Whoopi Golderg, who took her on the show to discuss her daughter’s case. Within fourteen minutes of the live broadcast, the producers had received an anonymous tip, and the family was reunited shortly after.
When Gabrielle Petito disappeared earlier this year, increased coverage across both social media and traditional news media highlighted the imbalance between the amount of pressure received in cases involving missing blacks and those involving missing whites. ‘Black and Missing’ aims to expand the spotlight further, but only time will tell where its effect will lie.