Friday, September 24, 2021

Gabby Petito and the 'missing white woman syndrome'

Charles M. Blow writes in The New York Times:

In 2004, at the Unity journalists of color convention in Washington, Gwen Ifill coined the phrase “missing white woman syndrome,” joking that “if there is a missing white woman you’re going to cover that every day.”

It is not that these white women should matter less, but rather that all missing people should matter equally. Race should not determine how newsroom leaders assign coverage, especially because those decisions often lead to disproportionate allocation of government resources, as investigators try to solve the highest-profile cases.

The obsessive fascination with missing white women also leads to a slanting in sympathies. All missing-persons stories are human tragedies, and because we are all human we empathize with the people we see. But this also erases the trauma of other missing people, as if nonwhite people never go missing, when they absolutely do.

It all becomes cyclical: Media raises the profile; law enforcement engages because of that high profile; the public becomes invested; then the media continues its coverage because of the massive law enforcement response and widespread public interest.

Just like that, we have all been manipulated into playing a part in the white damsel ideology, that young white women, often attractive, are the very epitome of innocence and virtue. The devotion is nearly religious, rendering them as cherubic or angelic.

In this construct, all efforts must be made to protect them. So, what of the Indigenous women, or the Black women, or the Hispanic women who disappear? Why does society not see them as equally in need of honor and protection?

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