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If you have been paying any attention to the news these past couple of weeks, you will be familiar with the name Gabby Petito.  If this is the first time you are hearing about this case, I will fill you in on the details.  Gabby Petito was a YouTuber who was filming her and her fiance, Brian Laundrie, going on a road trip together.  The trip was supposed to last four months, although after about roughly two months of traveling, Brian returned to Florida without Gabby.  Tragically, Gabby’s remains were discovered in Wyoming at Grand Teton National Park on September 19th.  In the beginning of the case, Brian Laundrie was just labeled as “a person of interest” and not a suspect.  Why?  I honestly could not tell you.  Now authorities have been searching for Brian Laundrie since the murder, and he has not yet been located.

The amount of media coverage this case got and is still currently getting is tremendous.  It has been all over every news outlet, including across social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and especially TikTok.  TikTok users have been taking the coverage of the tragedy into their own hands, reporting on facts of the case and also potential leads.  To be honest, I think these TikTokers are in over their heads.  It’s one thing to report facts of a case, but some of them are taking these miniscule details and making them into something they are not.

Anyways, the media is now speaking of a phenomenon called “Missing White Woman Syndrome”.  If you haven’t heard of it already, this phrase is used to highlight the fact that the media disproportionately covers missing person cases when the victim is an upper-class white woman.  This is not to say that the case of Gabby Petito is not important or that it is not devastating, it is.  Although missing people of color or missing people of a lower socioeconomic class do not get nearly the same amount of attention, effort, or coverage in the media or from law enforcement.  The issue of “Missing White Woman Syndrome” reinforces racism within not just our own country, but others as well.

I was reading an article about this phenomenon and came across a quote from Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.  One of the many explanations for this phenomenon is that the reporters covering these stories are predominantly white.  I am currently taking a class called Media in American Politics, and I am learning that journalists write stories based on what will get the most attention, what resonates with them the most, and what makes them the most money.  According to a study from 2019, only 7.39% of reporters are Black.  Since there is very little representation of Black people in this field, and unfortunately, their voices often go unheard when trying to cover pressing issues within their community.  It is an extremely disturbing reality, but journalists only want to cover stories that they feel 1) they can relate to and 2) can get them the most attention and money.

In the media, white women are depicted as innocent, harmless, and overall good people.  On the other hand, Black women are characterized as being responsible for what happened to them.  These stereotypes are rooted in racism and are still being portrayed by the media to this very day.  What can you do to help?  I have some resources below that focus specifically on missing people of color.  The non-profit organization Black & Missing Foundation provides resources specifically for missing people of color, while also spreading the word in an effort to try and find them.  This organization also provides public safety information to communities in an effort to take preventative measures against becoming a missing person.  They also provide pictures and more information regarding these missing people of color so people can keep an eye out and know what to look for.  CNN posted an article showing recently missing Black people and detailed their families’ frustrations of their children not getting nearly as much attention as Gabby Petito’s case.

Yes, the murder of Gabby Petito is devastating and Brian Laundrie needs to go down for it.  In bringing attention to this phenomenon, I am not diminishing the importance of her case.  I am saying that the cases of missing Black people are equally as important and equally as in need for our undivided attention.  The media has inherent biases and needs to do better, we can all do better by amplifying the voices of the Black parents whose children have gone missing and spreading the word about it via social media, news outlets, etc.  There also needs to be a push on law enforcement to do better and try just as hard in cases of missing people of color as they do for missing white people.

Katie is the president and chapter correspondent of the Her Campus Buffalo chapter and a junior at the University at Buffalo studying psychology and political science. She loves to write about current events, politics, how to manage college life, and much more! She plans on using this platform to speak her mind and make a difference at UB.
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