The media coverage of the case of the 35 year old missing Maryland woman in Aruba reminds me once again how the media fails to report the cases of missing black women. No, the woman missing in Aruba is not African American. If she were African American or some other minority, I doubt if the mainstream media would cover the story.
Why does race matter in cases of missing women and girls? It should not matter but apparently to the media, it’s an important fact. Countless numbers of African American women and girls go missing, but the mainstream media either doesn’t care to notice or report on them. Take for instance, the case of missing North Carolina 16 year old Phylicia Barnes, who went missing while visiting relatives in Baltimore over the Christmas holiday in 2010. Phylicia was an honors student, who was graduating one year earlier and had plans to attend college. Early on, the Baltimore detectives practically begged the national media to report on and cover her case. Baltimore police spokesperson, Anthony Gugliemi stated:
“I don’t know why this case is any different that the Natalee Holloway case. ” “The only exception is that Phylicia was in Baltimore and she’s from North Carolina,” “America rallied around Natalee and CNN aired hourly updates. In my case, I’m just asking that [Phylicia’s] picture be put up and it be noted that she’s missing and in danger.”
Barnes’ case was the most intensive investigation of a missing person by the Baltimore police in years. Except for a few segments on national television after constant prodding by the Baltimore detectives, national media rarely covered her case. Four months later, she was found dead, the result of a homicide.
The lack of coverage of black women and girls is not intended to take away from coverage of any other woman or girl who goes missing. For all the faces of missing women, like Natalie Holloway or Elizabeth Smart and now missing Robyn Gardner in Aruba, there are countless unnamed and unseen faces of African American women and girls who go missing without a trace of media coverage. Except for local cases covered on local stations, there is no coverage. When was the last time anyone saw a missing African American woman reported on national media or headline news?
Race matters in missing women cases. And Black women who are missing should matter to the media. If they did, perhaps, Phylicia Barnes would be alive today.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a legal and political commentator who appears frequently in the media on issues on women and race. She also contributes to the Huffington Post. She is a former Baltimore prosecutor.