Sunday, May 24, 2009


I want to share with you something I learned a little while ago from a friend of mine. I can't believe I didn't put this together until now, seeing as I think of myself as being conscious of race issues, but that just goes to show that we're all still becoming aware of the pervasiveness of racism.

A few days ago I brought up to a friend of mine a column I read in the New York Times. Nick Kristof wrote about trafficking and prostitution of teenage girls in the U.S. with an emphasis on race and poverty. Many of these missing girls end up as prostitutes in the control of pimps. He writes,
If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.

It initially surprised me, the scope of this, but then I began to notice that this really was popping up everywhere.
A few days later, Bob Herbert wrote of a similar experience about the death black infant when he was working as a newspaper editor. He was at a meeting with editors at a newspaper who were discussing doing a story on this. He writes:

One of the stories being pitched was about a baby that had been killed on Long Island. The editor running the meeting was completely relaxed. He was sprawled in his chair and was holding a handful of papers. His legs were crossed.

“What color is that baby?” he asked.

A tremendous silence fell over the room. Everyone understood what he meant. If the baby was white, the chances were much better that the story was worth big play. It might be something to get excited about.

Little did I know, this is phenomenon had a name: Missing White Woman Syndrome. It even has its own wikipedia entry here. It is basically what Nick Kristof described, that a missing girl from a middle class family will get lots of press coverage and public support to try to find her. But a girl from a poor family, likely black or Latino, will not get as much media attention.

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