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The Missing White Woman Syndrome

The Missing White Woman Syndrome is where the press goes on and on for days if not weeks when a pretty white woman or girl is missing but says little to nothing about other missing people. It affects the news at least in Britain and North America.

How many of these do you know?


Marcie Crane,

Tamika Huston,

Shirley Geanes,

LaToyia Figueroa,

Phylicia Moore,

Stepha Henry,

Nailah Franklin,
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Theresa Bunn,
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Latasha Norman.

How about these:


JonBenet Ramsey,

Chandra Levy,

Elizabeth Smart,

Laci Peterson,

Brooke Wilberger,

Lori Hacking,

Jennifer Wilbanks,

Natalee Holloway,

Taylor Behl.

These are both lists of missing women. If you live in North America you probably know some from the second list but none from the first. Yet the only difference between the two lists is skin colour: the missing women in the first list are black, those in the second are white. Black or white, most are now dead, as are the missing women of other races.

From the news you would never know that most missing Americans are men, not women, that nearly a third of the missing are black and that, yes, even ugliness will not save a woman from becoming missing and turning up dead.

The news prefers its missing people to be young, white, pretty, female and from a well-to-do family.

This seems to be especially so with cable news. They like to lead the hour’s news with a picture of a pretty white woman and the word “MISSING”.

In May 2004 Tamika Huston, a 24-year-old black woman from South Carolina, was missing. It was not till 14 months later that they found her body. Her aunt worked in public relations but the press was not all that interested. Yet during all those months when Huston went missing cable news went on and on about these missing women:

  • Lori Hacking of Utah whose husband killed her
  • Natalee Holloway, who went missing in Aruba (they never found her)
  • Jennifer Wilbanks, a runaway bride

All were white.

Anderson Cooper of CNN says he has never seen a story killed because it was about someone who was not pretty enough or white enough. But he has seen stories get pushed aside because reporters think, “You know, I don’t think our viewers are very interested in this case.”

Cable news, like the film and fashion industries, which I have already written about, assumes that most people do not care to see blacks.

The Missing White Woman Syndrome is part of something much broader: news reporting on crime follows the colour line. It is news when it affects white people but not when it affects only black people.

I once lived in a part of New York where the sound of gunshots and ambulances in the night were a part of life. Hundreds were killed year after year. Viewers were not interested, it seems. Not, that is, until it touched the white world when a white policeman was killed.

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