“Nobody Noticed a Ton of Missing Women?”

The title of this post is taken from a Twitter update I noticed a few weeks ago. Something about this line stuck with me. It’s simple, short, clear, to the point, but actually filled with unspoken complexity, nuance, and meaning. You can read it at face value, sure, and that says something, but you can also delve into¬† it and under it and see that it’s really about something else. This is a commentary on society and on the way we frame events, people, bodies.

“Nobody noticed a ton of missing women?”

Well, somebody did. But not enough somebodies, and not the right kind of somebodies, and those missing women weren’t the right somebodies either. A ton of missing women aren’t going to be noticed if they are living in marginalized bodies. And this is what we like to call a social problem. An alarming trend. An inconvenient truth, even. That fact that only certain kinds of bodies and people are noticed and made into news events, that is something that we need to be talking about.

In North Carolina, at least 10 women have been murdered or kidnapped. There are clear signs that this is serial killing, not random violence. This is isolated to a geographic area, there are similarities between the crimes. This is not coincidental. And this is not a murder mystery series, in which a high death rate for a small town is an unremarkable thing.

So why isn’t it all over the news? Because they are Black. 10 missing and possibly murdered Black women are, quite literally, trumped by a single missing white woman, as demonstrated when a news outlet recently bumped a story about the missing in North Carolina to cover a missing white woman. Civilians are raising funds to pay for billboards to raise awareness, because there has been so little media and police interest in this case.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of women have gone missing in Ciudad Juarez. Many of them have turned up murdered. This has been going on for well over a decade. But you aren’t going to read about them in most media outlets, because they are Brown. And that means that they aren’t considered newsworthy.

Women with disabilities go missing on a fairly regular basis. And they sometimes turn up dead. And they don’t get covered in the news, unless they are white, in which case they may be fitted into an oddly enough back-of-the-news segment.

All of these missing women had families. Loved ones. Friends. Some had children. Others had sisters, brothers, partners, parents. Those people? Those people noticed that these women were missing. And they spoke up as loud as they could, but their voices were not loud enough for the media to pay attention. Because there’s no hook in a story about a missing Black woman. There’s no interest in a story about a murdered wheelchair user. There’s nothing to say about missing women in Latin America, either, evidently.

I hear a lot of defenses of the focus on white, pretty women who go missing. Some of those defenses seem to revolve around “well, the news caters to its demographic.” So…ugly people don’t watch the news? Non-whites don’t watch the news? People with disabilities don’t watch (listen to, read) the news? In California, where whites are rapidly becoming the minority, you’re saying that there would be no interest among members of the general public in reading about issues pertaining to Latin@s?

These arguments are actually catering to default assumptions, something I see on the Internet a lot. Oh, you’re on the Internet? You must be white, able bodied, middle class, and American. Even though white, able bodied, middle class Americans are actually pretty rare, when you consider the distribution of the world’s population as a whole. It’s usually white, able bodied, middle class Americans whom I see defending this default assumption and the general focus in the news and on the Internet within the United States on white American people and white American issues.

California is actually a great example. It is rapidly becoming a “minority majority” state, referencing the fact that whites are a social and cultural majority, but a demographic minority. Despite the fact that we are not the dominant population in California, we are the face of California. Television shows set in California? White people galore. Hispanics and Latinos, a bit thin on the ground. People who are not white are silenced, marginalized, and ignored. It is assumed that they work in the fields and in our kitchens and our homes, hospitals, office parks, but nowhere else. It is assumed that they have nothing of value to add.

It is for this reason that the media does not notice a ton of missing women. The media is part of this white, culturally dominant majority, for the most part, and thus it seeks out news which affirms itself. If we were to dare to publish and air stories about missing Black women, it would suggest that these women have value. That stories about them would be of interest to the public. That, indeed, missing Black women are news.

It’s easy to recognize this, but harder to do something about it. The only really effective thing to do is to amplify the voices that are being silenced. Us white people, why can’t we use our social majority for good (while we work to break it down) and make it clear to the media that we do care about missing people who are non-white, non-pretty, non-able bodied. That we want to see stories about this. That we want to see coverage of these issues. Why can’t we center the voices of people of colour?

Why not say that we want stories blared across the media in those first few critical hours and days after someone goes missing? No matter who that person is. Studies have clearly shown that getting the word out immediately vastly increases the chances of a happy ending. Who is the media to deny a happy ending to everyone who is not white, young, and pretty? And who are we to tolerate that denial?