Tuesday, June 13, 2006

America's new sickness

Even after a year of seemingly endless investigations and coverage, Natalee Holloway has managed to find her way back into the spotlight of American media. This validates the theory that America appears to be suffering from a sickness. It’s not a sickness that you’ll read about in medical books. It’s not a sickness that’s easily curable with Benedryl. It’s not even detectable by most Americans.

Yes. America is sick, alright. It’s suffering from missing white woman syndrome.

At the risk of sounding racially bent, have you ever noticed that all a white woman really needs to do is sneeze and you’ll find national media camped out on her porch trying to figure out what happened? Imagine the concern if she doesn’t show up for work one day or is late picking up the kids from school. On just about every news station, you’ll hear stories about some ‘innocent’ white woman who was abducted, murdered, or brutalized. Now, don’t get me wrong: some women like Lacy Peterson and Chandra Levy actually had horrible things happen to them. Certainly their stories deserved the attention that they received if -- for no other reason -- to raise awareness about the violence and uncivility that is plaguing our world. But, how many women of color are victimized in this country without so much as a comment from American media? Are minorities so unimportant in this country that if one of us goes missing or if one is victimized, it’s not that big of a deal? Or, perhaps the lack of attention received to minority victims is more a product of the intrigue received by missing white women. I suppose that women with a darker hue just don’t have that same mystique.

If I want to find out about missing black women I need to look in Jet, Ebony, or Essence magazine; not CNN (unless, of course, we’re talking about “special” black women like 'bright' college students, rich girls, etc. They're the only black women who get any attention in the media.). However, the only thing that our white sisters need to do is go missing or, at the very least, give the impression that they’re missing and they’ll be plastered all over CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News like they’re a celebrity.

When Jennifer Wilbanks, for instance (who, by the way, should be in jail right now for deceiving an entire nation and wasting public resources), skipped out of her ultra-huge wedding and then lied about a Hispanic man kidnapping her, the media glamorized her. Though she didn’t seem to show any remorse for lying to fiancé, wasting public resources, misrepresenting women who actually are victimized, or wrongfully accusing a minority (in a society that deems most minorities guilty before proven innocent), she did manage to find an agent who sold her story for over a million dollars. She then got the opportunity to interview with Katie Couric who, rather than call her out on her lies, played the sympathy role. Essentially, Jennifer Wilbanks received a pass from Couric and the rest of the nation. The ‘punishment’ that she received (a probation sentence and a fine) dwarfs the profiting that she will receive from this debacle.

In an interesting post, one of my blogger buddies pointed out that our society has placed a certain high value on the lives of some people, while other people's lives are -- oppositely -- devalued. Such is the case with the phenomenon of the missing white woman (at least, I think so). The simple fact is when black women come up missing; it’s nothing to talk about. White women disappear (even those who stage their own disappearance), and massive search parties, “exclusive” interviews, made-for-TV movies, and book deal are in the works.

Some of you may be asking why I’m so angry about this whole thing. I mean, any time a person comes up missing, we should be concerned, regardless to who it is. I think that I’m vexed largely because of the human interest that is generated from people being vicariously energized and entertained by the stories of these white women; while stories involving victimized black women (i.e. the Duke University rape case) are of the least bit of interest. But, above all, what annoys me most is that the media portrays white “victims” as innocent and newsworthy while missing black women are far less significant and ignorable. This does little to support egalitarianism that our country is supposed to stand for; and greatly contributes to the decline of our nation’s public consciousness. It reminds me of how our nation viewed white women in the past. Society worshipped their ‘innocence’ and their ‘virtue’ and would do anything to protect them from black men; including lynchings. Virtues. Interesting idea. Ida B. Wells once said that if a person became so occupied with virtue, questions should be raised about whether or not their virtues actually existed in the first place.

What is it about missing white women in this country that causes us to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and an empty heart to victims of color. What makes people of color any less valid than their white counterparts? Are their stories not equally as tragic and newsworthy? Are they any less 'virtuous' and 'innocent'?

If someone's got the answer to that one, I'm curious to know...


15 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

ajbendaña said...

All that comes to mind, is that is a damn shame. I feel the same way on this issure towards hispanic women.

monique said...

One thing that comes to mind when I read this blog, is the Kobe Bryant story. Everyone was ready to accuse Kobe of raping a white girl. (even though he did have sex with her) they were going to prosecute him, until they they found out that the "victim" was a slut! I will admit that I'm disappointed in Kobe for becoming the stereotypical athlete, but I am happy that the real truth came out.

Diane said...

If it helps any coming from a white woman, I agree totally, and you can include almost any ethnic group other than white. Also, have you noticed that you almost never hear about it on the national news when black or Latino children are abducted or missing? And you can bet if a poor white woman and a rich one are both abducted, the rich woman will get a lot more press than the poor one. It ain't right, but money talks. In an ideal world, all races and creeds would be equal, but as long as men set the standards, the standards will be flawed.

For what it's worth, I wish things were different, but all I can do is stand up for what's right when I am confronted with racism in all its forms. If enough people would take a stand, over time, things would change for the better. I just don't know if this old world will stand that long, though. I'll do my part, Andre, now we only have millions of others to work on, with God's help. It's doable, with God on our side.

"For with God, nothing shall be impossible."

thehc said...

Hey Andre,
I agree, we definitely don't put enough value on a lot of people's lives, especially minorities. I do wonder though, if that has as much to do with their place in society as their "hue." My daughter's friend, Bonnie Dorland, (murdered May 31, 2006) will never see the effort for justice or the kind of attention that the examples you gave will. And she's white. Oprah Winfrey's child most certainly would and Bill Cosby's son did, so, just a point for thought, maybe it has a lot to do with money and fame also. Great post, and thanks for the plug.

Georgia girl said...

Intriguing post, Andre. I've also thought it to be interesting that certain people (race, class, etc.) are treated differently in the media. What I get mad about is when people use this attention as some opportunistic chance to sell a book, become a celebrity, or something like that.

KC said...

The angry black man strikes again!

But, on the real, truer words couldn't be spoken.

green eyed girl on planet earth said...

Hello My greeneyed Bandit
Great post as usual. I sense anger , is it directed at the media and law enforcers or the people that get the help needed as opposed to those who do not? Do you feel resentment towards "white woman"?
I think that the news is more into ratings now than ever , and some A hole is in charge and thinks that certain crime are worth more than others , it is a sick mind that can value a life for ones race,,wealth or any reason .I personally do not see any difference we are all human and deserve the same respect, It is horrible too know that this exists in our society.We have a long way to evolve .....

saved_sinner said...

Nice post Andre. I also think its a shame that everyone's attention is turned to certain people while others...more notably...the "least of these" is disregarded.

Provocative writing, my friend.

rhoda said...

I hate to admit it (being a white woman myself), but I absolutely agree with everyone in here. If you were new to America, you would think that this is a strange place where only young white women go missing. It's sad and - yes - is a "sickness" of our country.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that out of all the cases there are you chose the Holloway case. Because when I think about missing white woman syndrome, this one disturbs me more than the others. Maybe it's because this story isn't evn really going on in America; it's in Aruba. It's bad enough that missing women in America aren't being covered enough, but now we spend time covering women in another country...even if they ARE American.

Clearly, this is an attempt to create a distraction from the more important issues that our country faces.

Dana said...

Based on media perception, I'm convinced that there are more runaway brides and missing Girls Gone Wild in Aruba than there are missing children in this country.

Thanks television.

Andre said...

@ ajbendaña: I completely agree with you. It's not like women of color are not equally as victimized as MWW. In Dearborn, MI (not too far from me), middle easterners (including women) were assaulted during post 9/11 violent sprees. Hispanics (men AND women) suffer from hate crimes during the immigration debate.

Victimization is not exclusive to white women. But, the media seems to suggest otherwise.

@ Monique: Good reference to the Kobe case. Perfect example of how a perceived power hungry, sex-crazed black man goes after the innocence and virtue of a wholesome, all-American girl. As it turns out she was a ...(I'm thinking 'slut' but there's no telling how many children read this stuff). So, this harlot got millions of dollars and public sympathy for being a sl.t, playing a role in adultery, and 'crying' rape. Sad.

@ Diane: It's sad to say, but you're absolutely correct. The nation has to establish a universal link to certain victims and themselves. Simply put, some victims wear the face of America, while most don't. Natalee Holloway wears the face of America; Shaniqua Jenkins, Maria Sanchez, or Jumanah al-Seyed don't (unless they're "pretty" or rich).

This strange obsession in the national media is -- to me -- further indication that we're in the last days.

@ HC: As I mentioned before, certain minorities who are in some affluent get attention (celebs and their families, "exceptional" students, etc.) are recognized in the media. But, many whites who come up missing aren't THAT significant to society prior to their disappearance. I mean, can anybody tell me what Natalee Holloway did prior to getting kidnapped? What about Lori Hacking? How about Audrey Seiler?

The point is: none of the women have a remarkable story that gives them more appeal than any other average person. They're not famous. They're not celebrities (although celebs aren't really that important to me either. But that's another topic). What makes their stories so much more significant?!

@ georgia girl: Great point. For the "victims" and the families of the "victims", the exploitation of their stories is a good way to create opportunism. I'm not saying that they all do OR that they families are TRYING to profit off their hardship (like how Ann Coulter has heartlessly suggested that 9/11 victims' wives are trying to do). But, I wouldn't be suprised if there was a book Natalee Holloway or a movie about JonBenét Ramsey in the near future.

@ KC: I'm not just "the angry black man" with this one. I'm the "angry person". The worst thing you could ever do is piss somebody off and give them a blog...

@ Green: My vexation is aimed at...well...everybody:

(1) Victims/victims' families: Largely, I sympathize with the victims. I can't imagine the feeling of being abducted, raped, or whatever's happened to them. But the victims who have been recovered either profit off of it (movies, book deals, etc.) or they've staged it all themselves.

(2) Law enforcement/communities: Being a guy who grew up in one of the poorest cities in Michigan and who now resides in one the more affluent areas of Michigan, I know how the police and communities respond to different situations and people. This situation is no different.

Welcome back, by the way! You've gotta give me details of your trip.

Thanks to all of you for your comments.

Andre said...

@ saved_sinner: Neglecting "the least of these" is exactly what this whole thing boils down. If you're not rich enough, "attractive" enough, or "innocent" enough, you don't get recognition. Good point.

@ Rhoda: Excellent point you raised. I especially appreciate it being a white woman yourself. That's refreshing to me.

@ anonymous: I see your point. We should focus our attention to things going on here, rather than abroad; even if it involves Americans. By the way, feel free to leave a name if you want. Don't be scurr-rred! It's all love in here!

@ Dana: Your sarcasm is a few steps ahead of mine! LOL @ Girls Gone Wild...

Thanks to all of your for your comments!

thehc said...

Well, I guess I really should concede this point to you, as I have myself noticed that white women do seem to get the lion's share of attention in abductions or murders. I would like to add, as have others, that it's also noticable that they're all good looking. Is that because we feel less sorry for ugly people? I've also noticed that those little "please help" jars at the local store do better if the kid on the front is cute. How sad. I just have a hard time imagining that people do these things out of bias or prejudice. I guess I'm just naive. I always find myself hoping people are better than that. Maybe I should change my name to the Hippie Optimist.

Andre said...

@ HC: I think that your "cute little kid on the 'Please help me' jar" explains it all. The country only really identifies with, sympathizes with, and shows concern for the "pretty", rich, "important" and/or "innocent" people. Most blacks, hispanics, middle easterners, mentally challenged, gays, or any other minority groups need not apply.

By the way, I wouldn't exactly say that you had to "concede" this point to me. I mean, you made -- essentially -- about the same argument on your blog. Premium being placed on rich people is similar to it being placed on "pretty" white women.