At the 2004 Unity: Journalists of Color Conference, the late Gwen Ifill famously coined the term “missing white woman’s syndrome.” While participating in the conference’s “Media Coverage of National Security” panel, Ifill commented “if there is a missing white woman, you’re going to cover that every day.”
The truth in this statement has rung loudly ever since, and while we can’t say there have been significant strides made in the media as it relates to covering our missing brothers and sisters, one thing that has been noticeable, is the media’s obsession with their own neglect. The latest in this faux accountability wave comes from powerhouse HBO who’s recently released the ‘Black and Missing’ docuseries.
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 an uphill battle to bring awareness to the Black missing persons cases that are 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 takes a shot at examining just why their disappearances among so many others, never gained 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 a part of the disposability of Black lives in our country ― that two people can go missing at the same time and the entire nation focuses on the white person.”
He went on to share that “If you have been bombarded your entire life with messages and images of Black people being poor, down, out, dangerous ― it is no surprise that when a Black person is in distress, missing, murdered, it is not a big deal to much of white society, because they don’t think we have much to lose.
Janell Johnson-Dash, mother of Mishell-Nicole DiAmonde Green who went missing in 2011, is also featured in the program.
“It’s not easy to get exposure for a missing child of color,” Johnson-Dash told HBO. She was eventually connected with daytime talk show host and legendary actress, Whoopi Golderg who brought her on the show to discuss her daughter’s case. Within fourteen minutes of the live airing, the producers had received an anonymous tip, and the family was reunited soon thereafter.
In the disappearance of Gabrielle Petito earlier this year, increased coverage over social media and traditional news outlets alike highlighted the imbalance between the amount of press received in the cases involving missing Black people, and those involving missing whites. ‘Black and Missing’ aims to further expand the spotlight, but only time will tell where its impact will lie.