The name Gabby Petitio has polarized the nation in recent weeks. It has entered historical infamy with the likes of JobBenét Ramsey, Lacy Peterson, and Natalee Holloway. When you hear these cases you wonder, why did they get more attention? Why are these missing persons when there are so many that could get the attention? They aren’t particularly famous (though some had a small amount of notoriety).
While some would say it was the championing of their case by those who love them, on Monday MSNBC anchor Joy Reid did one of the things she does best and took the concern of the nation and made it about race. She called the concern about 22-year-old Gabby Petito is a clear case of “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
During that episode of “The ReidOut,” the anchor noted that Petito’s case has been everywhere, cable news, Twitter, TikTok, and basically every form of social media where decent people are concerned about something other than themselves. Reid called Petitio an “aspiring social media influencer” who was reported missing after her fiancee returned from their van life excursion without the missing girl.
According to Breitbart News, She talked about how Sunday saw the nation gripped with fear as human remains were found in the area of the national park in Wyoming where they were searching for Petito and how an autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday to discern whether it was really the girl whose case has gripped the nation or not.
But then, Reid put her own particular spin on the case and claimed that no one would be as interested if it weren’t a “white woman” that went missing: “Now it goes without saying that no family should ever have to endure that kind of pain, and the Pepito family certainly deserves answers and justice,” Reid said.
“The way this story captivated the nation has many wondering, why not the same media attention when people of color go missing? Well, the answer actually has a name: Missing White Woman Syndrome – the term coined by the late and great Gwen Ifill to describe the media and public fascination with missing white women like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway while ignoring cases involving people of color.”
Is it a matter of color? Of course, it’s possible. As with any explicit bias, someone being accused of bias has to assume it’s possible because the nature of bias is that the biased party has to assume they are correct. It’s also the case with anything concerning race, we flock together, and even if the most generous estimations are correct, there are less than 20 percent of the national population that are people of color.
So, before bias becomes the go-to answer, before families and the American people are questioned, you have to remember that statistically if five women go missing, only one of them is likely to be a Black woman. Of those five cases, the large majority of them will never get any media attention at all.
On top of that, it’s always more difficult for people of one race to tell the nuanced differences between the features of people from another race, so compounded with the lack of media interest in general in missing persons, there needs to be an audience who believes they can make a difference in a given case, which, would often look a lot like the person who has gone missing. And of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t consider the persistence of the parents of these missing girls as a big factor in why their cases got national attention.
So, is it possible that the nation, as a whole, is biased? Sure. But to jump to the conclusion that Americans are racist because they want a missing girl to be found alive is the kind of accusatory race-baiting that Americans should think long and hard about letting that into their homes. We may not have any control over who Gabby let into her life, but we have control over who we let into ours, and toxic is as toxic does.