My friend and media colleague, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, spoke the truth in her July 8 column about the disappearance of 15-year-old Austin resident Yasmine Acree-that her case has not received enough attention from the media in the six months she’s been missing.
That was also the message from Yasmine Acree’s family at a press conference they held in Austin two weeks ago.
But I’m taking it a step farther. If Yasmine were white, you can bet her story would be covered extensively already. In fact, if she were a blue-eyed, blond-haired white teen from some well-to-do Chicago suburb, she’d not only be covered locally, but maybe even nationally. If that upsets some folks-well, so be it. And don’t give me that weak-kneed “playing the race card” response either.
Time and time again, we see the media-yes, the profession I love and am an active member of-saturate their coverage with missing white women and young white girls. As for overkill in coverage, that’s a debate for another time. For the record, and as the father of an 8-year-old girl, I don’t mind such coverage. Blanket newsprint and TV with wall-to-wall coverage of those missing teens-but not just of those missing teens of a particular race only.
Of course, we can’t cover everything, not every subject, or every missing person’s case. But there is selected coverage by the media with respect to missing persons, make no mistake about it. And it goes like this-if you’re a young white female, you get covered; if you’re not, you likely won’t.
If you disagree, fine. But then tell me, right now as you read this, about Crystal Mayfield. She’s 16 and has been missing since June 13 from Park Ridge. How about Orlanda Green? The 16-year-old disappeared from the East St. Louis area in April of this year. Never heard of them have you? You know what? Neither did I until I searched the database of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Web site. These girls are black. And the database also had white and Hispanic girls, and boys-children of all races-listed missing across the United States. A search of missing girls in Illinois within the last year alone yielded 51 young women. But don’t gloss over my point. Don’t try to sweep the issue of race, fairness and media coverage under the rug by pointing out the obvious: That children of all races go missing.
So, if my child-Heaven forbid-went missing, my only saving grace to get any-ANY-media coverage would be the fact that I happen to work in the business? That would be a shame. It’s a shame that the names and faces of thousands of missing non-white girls are ignored in favor of those who are white.
I’m not a bigot. I don’t hate white people. I’m not picking on these white girls who received excessive media coverage. I’m asking a simple, common-sense question: Where is the fairness? Even a hint of it? Where is the balance of coverage? Where is the one missing black child the media will rally around?
You mean to tell me that unless a little black girl is able to gnaw at a rope to escape her captors, or does some other unusual and unheard of thing, she’ll otherwise go unnoticed? That is a shame.
Is it that if a black girl goes missing in our community there’s a different mindset at work by the media? Oh, yes, there is. In general, there’s a different mindset.
That whole thing with those girls making a pact to get pregnant? If that had happened in the black community, the media would still be talking about it. Rap music would be blamed. Black rappers would be attacked. Black single mothers would be chastised. The media hasn’t rushed to blame Britney Spears for this pact made by these white, teenage, upper middle-class New England girls. No one is attacking “white men” for turning these young girls out.
Those white teenage girls who beat the heck out of another girl, videotaped it and put it on YouTube? Did the media blame country music for the acts of these small-town Florida girls? This off-the-wall stuff would get coverage left and right and everywhere in between if it were black teenage girls involved.
Black girls engaging in juke dancing gets media coverage. Black girls having sex and babies gets coverage. Blacks girls having sex with hip-hop artists gets coverage. Black girls in gangs, who are prostituted, who fight each other over some knucklehead boy-all of that the media will find time and space for.
But young black girls who may not be involved in any such activities but who go missing-girls like Yasmine Acree-the media is just not that interested. Not sexy enough of a story. Not enough space for that. Or maybe, just maybe, not “white enough” to cover.