A new HBO docuseries explores the Black and Missing Foundation’s work over the past decade to find and bring attention to missing Black persons. It also looks at the media’s coverage of similar incidents, which has come to be known as “missing white woman syndrome,” a term coined by the late journalist Gwen Ifill at the Unity: Journalists of Color conference in 2004. “If there is a missing white woman, you’re going to cover that every day,” Ifill said during the conference’s “Media Coverage of National Security” panel, between laughs. The “Black and Missing” docuseries examines why that is, in addition to revisiting the disappearances of Pamela Butler, Tameka Huston, and Keeshae Jacobs, among other rarely covered cases.
In the second episode of the four-part series, Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, states, “This is a part of the disposability of Black lives in this country, that two individuals can go missing at the same time and the entire nation concentrates on the white person.” Warren also noted that the normalization of dehumanization and violence against Black people in entertainment media dates back to the 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” and the controversial but long-running reality show “Cops.” “If you have been bombarded your entire life with messages and images of Black people being poor, down, out, and dangerous, it is no surprise that when a Black person is in distress, missing, or murdered, it is not a big deal to much of a lot of people,” Warren “They don’t think we have anything to lose,” says the narrator.
When we read on the news that terrible things are happening in Black neighborhoods, many people believe that Black people are essentially complicit in what has happened to them.” The ramifications of this apathy have hampered Black families in their hunt for missing loved ones. Janell Johnson-Dash, whose daughter Mishell-Nicole DiAmonde Green went missing in 2011, talked about the difficulties she experienced in trying to persuade the media to pay attention to her daughter’s situation. Her story demonstrated the need of such coverage. “Getting awareness for a missing child of color is difficult,” Johnson-Dash told filmmakers. Despite the fact that many of the Bronx family’s public attempts were in vain, one effective contact eventually led to their daughter’s return.
Green’s parents went on Whoopi Goldberg’s daytime talk show, “The View,” to highlight their daughter’s situation after catching Goldberg’s notice. They were reunited with their daughter fourteen minutes after their appearance, thanks to an anonymous tip. Observations concerning the persistent coverage of social media celebrity Gabrielle Petito’s abduction and subsequent death earlier this year led to a greater awareness of the imbalance in coverage and promises of better media accountability when it comes to missing persons of color. For months, the tale of the young white woman and her missing, and now deceased, white fiancé received widespread publicity across media sites. “Black and Missing” is now accessible on HBO.