Evidence of a Morbid Fascination
America and its media are morbidly obsessed with the possibly grisly fate of pretty white girls. This is probably not news to some of you, but to those who find it surprising, consider.
Madison, WI, is known as a bastion of liberalism. It's safe to say that Madison is a racially tolerant city, if not particularly racially diverse. As evidence of its racial tolerance, I have only once in my nine-year interracial relationship experienced any sort of noticeable, overt discrimination.
Last year, Madison got national press attention with the disappearance of pretty white college student Audrey Seiler. Consider also Jon Benet, Laci Peterson.
In 2002, a seven year old black girl named Alexis Patterson disappeared in Milwaukee. Didn't get much national coverage that I recall. Alexis still hasn't been found.
Today at the bus stop, I saw a poster for a local Madison kid named Amos Mortier. Amos goes to MATC and has been missing for almost a month. You can see the web news coverage of Amos here.
Note that all those news sources are local Madison sources.
Again, I don't think the observation is particularly notable, in that almost anyone who thinks about it will see the differential media coverage. What puzzles and angers me is the giant racial and gender bias in the media coverage we receive, not just in the small picture of missing persons, but in the tinted lens through which we see our neighbors. I don't think this is the result of a conscious decision by shadowy media masterminds; I think it is the offhand, thoughtless commercialism that says that white girls sell newspapers, and black girls don't. It's unconscious sensationalism.
The media has a tremendous agenda-setting power. I worry that the message that we are getting is that perceived crimes against white girls are more heinous than the same crime committed against anyone else. If we are collectively inculcated to believe this, how can we ever hope to banish from our hearts and minds the invidious distinctions that spill over into every interpersonal relation we have?