I’ve been looking for missing people for a couple years now. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When it comes to missing persons, young women especially, race matters. I would dearly love to one day finish my degree so I can tell you with certainty why that is, but for now, I only have a couple guesses.
Before I ever actually investigated a case, my interest was piqued by the disappearance of Natalie Holloway. As tragic as it was, I was astounded and equally confounded by the outpouring of interest and emotional response. It was as though this was the first 18 year old from the US ever went missing. Natalie has never been found.
When compared to the disappearance of Rebeca Jose, barely a month prior, the difference in support and outrage is easily quantifiable. I doubt anyone beyond a couple NCMEC junkies and her family could tell you anything about this 17 year old Latina.
The obvious answer is to suggest that predominantly white media and its viewers are racist. When I have a missing black kid, I get pretty close to that conclusion too. What other explanation is there for a white 15 yo’s poster getting 17,000 views in one day, compared to barely a 1000 for a black one? Social scientists have termed this “Missing white woman syndrome.” Conversely, when a black or hispanic kid/adult goes missing, I’ve found myself referring to the underwhelming response as, “Missing brown girl apathy.” But, I think I’m wrong.
When you compare the high profile missing cases, yes, race of the victim plays a roll, but I don’t think it’s sympathy driving the interest. I think it’s voyeurism, a little sadism, and self interest. People like drama. They love to see suffering. And who suffers the most, but someone who hasn’t had to starve, endure stressful police encounters, or choose between an education or a minimum wage job?
Like, I said. I may be completely off base. Considering all my unsolved or unresolved cases involve minority and impoverished females, I have trouble doubting my own opinion. Of the fifty to sixty missing person cases I’ve worked or consulted on, I know for absolute certain that the hardest ones have been minorities.
Take from that, what you will, but I do hope you’ll think about that next time you tune in to Nancy Grace and she parades another blond haired blue eyed victim across your screen. For every one of them, there are hundreds of brown ones still waiting for justice. The media is exploitative and feeds us suffering.