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The Invisible Black Woman vs The Missing White Woman Syndrome


“Being White is a social currency that women of color don’t have.” While not widely known, about 100,000 Black women and girls went missing in the United States during 2020. This is not well-known knowledge due to it not being televised on news media. However, what has always been shown on media is missing, conventionally attractive White women. Missing Black women, and women of color in general, typically get overlooked by media until there is public outcry about the disproportionate media coverage missing White women receive. Known as “missing White woman syndrome,” this phenomenon always takes place when middle-class White women disappear. An example of this occurred during the disappearance of Gabby Petito.

Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old White woman, was reported missing by her parents on September 11, 2021, after she and her fiancé Brian Laundrie went on a cross-country road trip. Her being young, pretty, and blond, her story quickly swept the nation. Both the police and FBI were in search of Ms. Petito, utilizing drones, helicopters, dogs, and ground-level search parties. Through the investigation, multiple witnesses told police of different accounts where they saw the couple in public. According to such statements, there was clear tension between the two, particularly reports of Mr. Laundrie physically and verbally assaulting Ms. Petito. However, despite the police’s best efforts, Ms. Petito’s body was found on September 19, 2021, at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. However, Mr. Laundrie was nowhere to be found. Him being the prime suspect in the murder, Florida’s North Port police department utilized various searching methods and other agencies to find Brian Laundrie. Given this clear determination the police and FBI had when searching for Gabby Petito, one would think that the same effort would be applied during all missing person cases; but unfortunately, this is not the case.


Nineteen-year-old Audreona Barnes of Cleveland, OH went missing July 30, 2021, after having met with an Army recruiter. Since she had been picked up and dropped off at her boyfriend’s apartment, the police wanted to talk with Ms. Barnes’ boyfriend to gather information about the last time he saw her. However, according to a Warrensville Heights police detective, the boyfriend denied making a statement, saying that he did not like the police nor did he need them. In addition, the police of Warrensville Heights did not rule out foul play by Audreona Barnes. Furthermore, even though there are street cameras near Ms. Barnes’ boyfriend’s house, the authorities said the footage was inconclusive. With that, along with having no new leads or people of interest, the investigation was at a standstill. So, Audreona Barnes’ mom had no choice but to start her own investigation. She has posted fliers and talked with news outlets to find her missing daughter.


While both stories have their similarities, I find a vast number of differences between the two. When focusing on Audreona Barnes, I find that there is very little information about the case. Most of the articles and videos I used to learn about the case retold the same information. But for Gabby Petito, I was able to gather a lot more information, such as intimate events between her and her fiancé being surfaced because of the thorough investigation. Furthermore, Ms. Petito was looked for using various methods and agencies, while Ms. Barnes was not given the same level of importance, which is sadly not surprising. “Historically, U.S. society has undermined, rejected, erased and regulated Black women.” Society is not concerned about all women, just those who fit racialized and gendered stereotypes that are imposed on women. But just as society continues to changes, so can the media and police’s treatment and representation of missing Black female cases. Some ways these changes can be made are through publicizing their stories, being mindful of the language used to describe the disappearance, and covering more stories of those from complicated backgrounds. For a long time, femininity has been used as a tool to perpetuate White female superiority, while also being a weapon to diminish Black women. All women should be viewed and treated as equal and should be looked for with the same amount of importance.

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