By Patricia Wilson-Smith
The purpose of erecting this website for Black Women for Obama was to bring important issues to the fore; we knew from the onset that those issues would not always relate directly to the election season, and today’s message to you, Dear Readers, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Election of ’08. Here goes.
Over the weekend, Chicago’s local media began issuing reports regarding a missing young woman by the name of Nailah Franklin. Nailah is a 28-year old drug sales representative from Chicago who was reported missing after sending a vague text message to friends and family. She had apparently been receiving threatening phone calls from someone she used to date before she disappeared. Nailah Franklin, as you can see from the photo above, is a young black woman.
So I’m sitting in front of my television as I watch the coverage just shaking my head, because I know that like so many other stories involving missing black women, the public outcry for her safe return will never come; the vigils outside her mother’s home, the tearful interviews on Good Morning America begging for any news on her whereabouts – will not happen. And it just pisses me off beyond belief.
I have always been bothered by the way the American media obsesses over non-minority women when they go missing. It says something really disturbing about our society that we put less value on a human life if that life is not wrapped in a package that we think is befitting. I’m bothered because I’m certain that beautiful, intelligent black women are abducted all the time unfortunately, and yet we rarely if ever hear about their stories, except as some passing news item on the network and cable news channels. And maybe even some not-so-beautiful, not-so-educated black women have been lost to their families and loved ones as well - God help them if they live in an inner city. But let a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian college student come up missing, and the “cable news earth” stops revolving. Major news events are preempted to get the word out, people appear out of nowhere to assist the family and help garner support from their communities, money for rewards start flowing like a river – it’s amazing!
I want HOURLY updates on the Nailah Franklin case – I want consistent coverage on the progress of the search for her and I want it to go on forever or until she’s found, which ever comes first. In other words, I want her to get the same chance at the oh-so important exposure from the news media that any Natalee Holloway look-a-like would receive. In a nation that prides itself on its multi-culturalism, and that wants to believe it has left the specter of racism behind, why is it seemingly impossible for the media to give fair and equitable coverage to the missing/exploited minorities in this country?
As a professional black woman, with a family who loves me, and with a gaggle of female nieces, young cousins, and friends that I cherish dearly, it pains me to know that if one of them were suddenly gone without a trace, the only hope my family would have of garnering any attention to their story would be a blurb on the local news channel for a night. Meanwhile, the young, white, and attractive that disappear (no matter what the circumstances) end up captivating the ENTIRE world for months and sometimes years on end. Where is the equity in that?
I can ask this question because it’s obvious that the spectacle that some of these stories become is COMPLETELY media-driven. We live in a society where we are conditioned to care about, talk about, and believe in whatever the media sends our way. As a sad result, the message that our society is being force-fed is that the value of a black woman’s life, or the value of a Latino woman’s life is not as important as that of an Anglo-Saxon, and their subsequent abduction or murder is hardly worth reporting.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Missing or abducted younger women are more often reported on than are older women, and most certainly, the more attractive the woman the more coverage she gets.
This is irresponsible on so many levels. How are we as a society going to let the legions of young Black and Hispanic women and girls in this country know that we value them, and that their existence means anything to the future of this nation if we allow such a glaring disparity to continue? I am a college instructor, technology professional, author, mother, daughter and friend to many people who love me dearly. It is so disheartening to know that if I were to ever disappear, the exact same effort that is expended to find young, attractive, white women would not be expended to locate my big, black butt and bring me back to my loved ones.
Remember Latoyia Figueroa? Latoyia was a beautiful young woman who like Nailah was of African-American descent. Latoyia disappeared on July 18, 2005. She was five months pregnant at the time, and was reported missing after she failed to show up to work. At the time, her disappearance did spark some controversy, because all of the major news outlets completely ignored her story, despite the obvious similarities to the Laci Petersen case, and because of their unending fascination with the hot case of the time, Natalee Holloway. However, the controversy was short-lived, and as far as I can tell, no media outlet has been brave enough to lead the charge towards change since. We’ve successfully integrated the work place, schools, and public restrooms – what’s the deal with media coverage?
As a point of illustration, try this. Go to Google (or any other search engine) and search on “Latoyia Figueroa”. You should get somewhere in the area of 22,000 hits. Now – type in “Natalie Holloway” (an intentional misspelling of her name) and search. You get more than double the hits, about 47,000, even with her name misspelled! Finally, type in “Natalee Holloway”, and do a search. You’ll find well over six-hundred THOUSAND references to her, many of them media references, or sites and blurbs that are a direct result of the mountainous amount of coverage her case has received. The inequality is appalling, shocking really, and I submit that it must change before this country can ever really consider itself racially progressive.
I should state emphatically that it is a tragedy whenever anyone is abducted – black, white, green, or fuschia. But it is equally tragic when a nation like this one so openly devalues one segment of its population so blatantly. I plan to watch the coverage of this story VERY closely, and hold the media accountable for not giving this young woman the same chance to be found, and for not giving her family the same chance at closure that Natalee Holloway’s and Laci Petersen’s families got. It’s only fair, and if the media can’t be fair about something like this, then hell, what can they be fair about?