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Missing Black people's families frustrated with 'White woman syndrome,' apathy to their cases

The term 'White woman syndrome' coined by late TV news anchor Gwen Ifill, explaining how America identifies more with white people.

Missing Black people's families frustrated with 'White woman syndrome,' apathy to their cases
Image source: Instagram/gabspetito Right: Twitter/@JournalistShay

The tragic death of Gabby Petito has captured the attention of the media and public. The 22-year-old had gone on a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, but only for her fiancé to return from the trip alone. It soon emerged that she had died with the coroner ruling her death a case of homicide. During the few days Gabby Petito was still missing, the media attention and that of the general public shot through the roof. There were many tip-offs that helped piece together the puzzle that eventually helped find her body and now, the hunt is on for her fiancé.


David Robinson has been watching the media frenzy, feeling a deep sense of hurt. David Robinson's son, Daniel Robinson, a geologist, went missing on June 23 while leaving a worksite in his Jeep Renegade, reported CNN. David Robinson has been searching for his son for three months in Arizona with little help from the media, public, or the authorities. Robinson's search for his son is draining him, ebbing away at him each day, realizing he's all alone in his search. 



Watching the public, media and authorities work night and day to help a missing White person has hurt David. His family is Black and that's played a part in the apathy towards his son's case. The level of scrutiny in the case of Gabby Petito points to "Missing White Women Syndrome," a term the Northwestern University School of Law described in a 2016 study as an instance of missing White women and girls receiving more media attention when compared to those outside of those demographics. The study also pointed out that missing Black people were less likely to garner media attention than other groups. The term was first coined by late TV news anchor Gwen Ifill, explaining systemic racism.



"You wish you lived in a world where everything was equal but it's really not equal," said Robinson. He sympathizes with Gabby Petito's family but he can't help but wonder if the skin color of his missing son's dictated the apathy of the authorities and the public. After he realized the cops weren't making any progress in the investigation, he hired an independent investigator and assembled a volunteer search team. While the media did initially report his son's case, there was no sustained reporting on the case. The cops also appear to allocate more resources to missing cases in the public eye. "It bothers me and it upsets me that my son being missing is not important, it's not urgent and hasn't gotten much attention. I've lost faith in the Buckeye police department," said Robinson. Daniel's car was discovered by a rancher on July 19, three miles away from the work site where he was last seen. The vehicle had suffered crash damage and some of his clothes were found nearby. The Buckeye police assistant chief Bob Sanders they are still searching for him. "Daniel is a member of our community and we are committed to finding him," said Sanders. "We relate to him (David Robinson) as a father and we are trying to give him closure one way or the other."


People of color are forced to seek help from the community, hold rallies, launch independent probes, and lawmakers to draw attention to their cases and make headway into finding their loved ones. The data backs up the argument that America suffers from a "Missing White Women Syndrome." FBI data from 2020 showed that 35% of missing people were Black despite forming only 13% of the US population. On the other hand, White people made up 54% of missing person reports, while forming 76% of the US population.



Daniel Robinson is just one of the many names of Black people gone missing. Toni Jacobs' search for her daughter Keeshae Jacobs continues to this day. She has been missing since September 26, 2016. It took almost 14 months for cops to say they suspected foul play was a factor in her disappearance. "My heart goes out to everybody that's missing, I don't want any parent to go through what I've gone through," said Jacobs. "But at the same time, it does frustrate me because Keeshae didn't get that attention. What made the FBI think her case was more important than Keeshae's?"



Derrica Wilson was aware of the system's apathy towards people of color and launched a Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. in 2008. The organization shares and promotes stories of Black and brown families with missing loved ones through the media."We look at it and we say 'why not us?'" said Wilson. "Our families, our communities are desperate to find their missing loved ones and sadly their cases are just not taken seriously."

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