Friday, June 18, 2010

Disparities: Missing White Woman Syndrome

The point of this post is illustrated between 1:58 and 3:33; it's the best I could do!

My studies are all in the realm of social science. I've recently discovered contemporaries with similar mindsets as myself in some regard, but in other regards social science seems less than important as it is specifically (in my studies) constructed by the history of a very diverse bunch known as America on the whole. My goal in life since I was two years old was to save people; no, not in a spooky religious sort of way, but in a way that is long-lasting and more affecting of the people: I want (and have) hands on experience working with people to improve the condition of their lives. And while I very much realize that all people are in need of assistance and "saving", I feel for women and persons of color (as a woman and person of color). As such, many of the things that I have studied and worked to change deal specifically with the imbalance in our (American) social reality as it relates to women, people of color (largely Black people), and women of color.

The media and society have a mutual give-and-take relationship when it comes to the definition of reality on the whole; an individual's own reality and definitions do matter but are sometimes not representative as what is presented by society. The old chicken and egg argument dominates: does the media maintain a true reflection of the people (though society has been around as long as the media), or does society influence more what the media should be portraying as society's needs?

My college courses (at my predominately white university, for the record), often discussed a phenomenon known as Missing White Woman Syndrome(MWWS): the apparent racial bias in the media's (over-)reporting of young, attractive, "conventional", upper-middle class white girls/women over impoverished-to-middle class girls/women of color. I often ponder on this; there is a serious pattern of local and national panic when white women are abducted (or, even victimized in one way or another) versus when women of color are victimized at all. So much so, in fact, that there are websites available that post pictures and information for women of color because of the expressed imbalance. Remember: there's "justice", but there's also, very often, "just-us".

MWWS has only recently received the acknowledgment of its unfortunate reality. LaToyia Figueroa was a young pregnant woman of color that was reported missing in 2005 after not showing up for work. She was murdered south of entire month after she disappeared. Her case was overshadowed by Natalee Holloway's disappearance and reported little by the mainstream media.

Last night, I'm sitting at work and I began thumbing through the most recent People Magazine. As I've made apparent, I have an interest in sex crimes and, what many police divisions describe to be "special victims". As such, I am always very caught up in the killings of young women and, admittedly, I've been very caught up in the details of Natalee Holloway's disappearance from the day she went missing. I mean, she was(/is?) the same age as me and the fact that they've yet to discover her whereabouts is terrifying and must be absolutely tragic for her parents. And when the suspect in her disappearance and alleged death popped up on the national media's radar weeks ago, I thought ', he killed this poor girl on five years to the day of Natalee's disappearance because she was asking him about whether or not he actually murdered her?' Odd way to prove your innocence. There was a difference though: he confessed to killing Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez and is taking his punishment. Now, though he has made off the record contradicting statements about killing Natalee and/or selling her into sex slavery (which is very possible considering he has a serious gambling and drug addiction - that caused his lawyer-father to stop supporting him), he was never even charged or tried for Natalee's murder because of such little evidence. It is devastating, and very unfortunate but these things happen in real life. Everything is not always Law and Order, and many missing persons and/or murders go unresolved.

Equally unfortunate to me, though, was People Mag's cover:

I feel for Natalee Holloway and her family. I also feel for Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez, who is hardly pictured to the right of Natalee Holloway. Joran van der Sloot confessed to brutally murdering her. He is being tried for this crime. He is not currently being tried for the murder of Natalee Holloway. So why is Natalee Holloway the feature of this cover?

We could argue that it is American-centric, which I also have a problem with given that the crime and alleged crime still occurred elsewhere. I don't intend to disrespect Natalee Holloway, but it seems as though the young, beautiful, upper-middle class white woman - the feature - is of greater value than the young dead Latina who is the most recent victim of van der Sloot's crimes.

I have no problem that the article mentioned Natalee Holloway; I understand wanting to draw parallels and hoping to bring van der Sloot to justice for the disappearance of Natalee. Truly, my heart goes out to everyone who was personally affected by Natalee's vanishing into thin air. Yet, I'm disappointed; if the media feeds into the subconscious of society, what is it telling us about the value of young women of color who are missing or murdered?

Be Righteous.


  1. It would be nice if Mitrice Richardson got the attention that Natalee Holloway now gets even 5yrs later after her disappearance. But I get the feeling that when white women go missing, there's more attention given because the assumption is that O.J. Simpson is responsible. Anything to keep him locked up is a plus for somebody.