Why don’t missing people of color receive the same publicity as white women?

Sydney McCall | Staff Writer

Seraphine Warren cries as she talks about her missing aunt, Navajo rug weaver Ella Mae Begay (AP Photo, Lindsay Whitehurst)

By now, most people have heard the story of Gabby Petito. The 22-year-old white woman was found dead after a monthslong van trip with her boyfriend. 

The devastating story has been a topic of interest within all media outlets worldwide, with hundreds of individuals and groups working to solve the mystery of what happened to her. 

Unfortunately, for other marginalized groups, the efforts are not as strong, or even present, when one goes missing.

Jelani Day was a 25-year-old Black man from Bloomington, Illinois. His disappearance only started to receive attention after his family begged for law enforcement to intervene. 

Day went missing Aug. 24, his body was found in the Illinois River on Sept. 4, and the body was not identified as his until Sept. 23, nearly a month later, according to NPR. 

People have been calling out the lack of coverage that missing people of color receive in the media, and the statistics are shocking. 

According to a Statewide Wyoming Report, only 18 percent of indigenous female victims get newspaper coverage, compared to 51 percent for white female and male victims. Additionally, more than 400 indigenous women and girls were reported missing in Wyoming between 2011 and September 2020, the state where Petito went missing. 

Black people, who make up 13 percent of the nation’s population, are a third of active missing cases, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Database. Native Americans and Latinos are also on the list in disproportionate numbers. 

There seems to be an increase in social media awareness for white women. Those who are blond, petite and young tend to create a frenzy online, named by many as “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”

The American media decides who is worthy of national empathy and compassion. It is very similar to how white male shooters are often portrayed as “bullied” or just making a mistake, whereas Black men are immediately labeled as criminals. 

“It’s hard not to feel frustrated at the lack of coverage people that look like me receive. It is a clear comparison,” said Monae Fletcher, a second-year biology major at Hampton University. “It is really clear who is held or seen as a priority in this country.”

No one is saying that Petito should not have received media coverage, an FBI investigation or government resources. Her devastating story should be a call to action for domestic violence and women as it pertains to safety. 

However, every woman and man who has been reported missing should receive the same amount of attention and resources that she and her boyfriend are getting. Too many families of people of color who have gone missing have been left alone to solve their case, which is heartbreaking. 

The country has a number of cases surrounding missing people. It would be great for everyone’s story to be solved, but this is not realistic. Everyone’s story, however, deserves to be heard.

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