According to the National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person and Unidentified Person files, there were 543,018 people reported missing in 2020, and nearly 40% of those individuals are Black.
Throughout the ongoing investigation of the case of Gabby Petito, which has taken mainstream and social media by storm, the question as to why missing people of color fail to receive the urgency and attention as their white counterparts has surfaced.
Many faculty members from Sacred Heart University have opinions on this topic and discuss what needs to change in America.
“I think you have to put in a larger context to ask the question ‘well why does that happen?’ in media and our whole society where unfortunately, and a lot of people don’t want to look at this because it is a hard truth to look at, America historically has not taken the issues of people of color as seriously as white people’s issues,” said Associate Professor Bill Yousman.
In a case that was reported to the Arizona law enforcement as early as June 9, a Black man by the name of Daniel Robinson of Arizona was labeled missing once his parents realized their son never returned home from work. Although his father David Robinson sympathizes with the Petito family, he said to CNN, “You wish you lived in a world where everything was equal, but it’s not really equal.” This case remains unsolved.
On Sept. 11, Petito’s family reported her missing to the Suffolk County police. The FBI confirmed that they found the remains of Petito’s body on Sept. 21.
The question arises within many people as to why missing white people receive more urgency and media attention than people of color.
“I think that’s a question for the gatekeepers. And most of those gatekeepers are white males. In the end, in media and culture, it’s really about ratings. What is going to increase ratings, viewers, readers? In the end, media is a business,” said Ann Marie Somma, an adjunct faculty member in the school of Communication and Media studies.
Others attribute the lack of media coverage to the fact that people of color are underrepresented in the journalism and the media field.
“If there were more people of color in newsrooms, they might be able to say, ‘Hey wait a minute, let’s also cover this or let’s also pay attention to that,’ and then organizations would have to respond. So, I think we have to address this on both a societal level and media industry level to make sense of this,” said Yousman.
A demographics report completed by Zippia: The Career Expert obtaining a database of over 25 million profiles displayed that 69.6% of journalists are white, followed by Hispanic or Latino journalists with 13.7% and lastly Black journalists, who make up 7.5% of journalists.
Through this, many individuals have ways in which people and the media can adapt to becoming bigger advocates in promoting a greater concern for people of color.
“Stop waiting for Black History month, and Hispanic Heritage month, and Asian American Pacific Islander month. Stop. Our country takes their foot off the pedal, and our society does that, and our nation does that. The issue is not solved. There is still work that needs to be done,” said Director of Multicultural Affairs Robert Johnson.
Some say that these kinds of topics should be meaningful to everyone, as every life should be sacred.
“This is a topic that should be important to everyone. Because we’ve seen the power of the media and helping solve missing persons cases. Everyone should be afforded that media coverage equally. Every life matters,” said Somma.
Others say that uncomfortable conversations must happen in order to address issues like this.
“The reason why uncomfortable conversations are uncomfortable is because we don’t have them often enough. It won’t be uncomfortable if you talk about it more often. Our country is not ready to face their ugly side,” said Johnson.