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While hundreds of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) women go missing every year, the information released and publicized is muted compared to that of missing White women. Such a viral phenomenon even has a name: “missing White woman syndrome,” describing the fascination with news-related advocacy for finding White women who have disappeared.

Take the case of Gabby Petito, a popular vlogger who went missing following a cross-country trip with her boyfriend. The story of the young blond woman went viral, prompting tips and theories, and eventually leading to the discovery of her body. Ms. Petito’s fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who has refused to speak to authorities, is still missing. 

Yet missing and murdered BIPOC women rarely get the same — if any — attention. 

Missing Black women ignored by media

Currently, there are 51 Black women missing in Chicago. Father Michael Pfleger, a Chicago-area anti-violence activist, recently noted, “The value of life depends on your race and color.”

Black women missing missing white woman syndrome missing and murdered indigenous women

While he sends condolences to the Petito family, he is incensed that missing Black women do not get as much publicity or interest as missing White women. “Where’s the outrage? Where’s the commitment? Where? Where is the press conference from law enforcement and city officials to say ‘we’re gonna find the roots of this?’”

Lynnette Grey Bull, an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, agrees.

“It’s kind of heart-wrenching, when we look at a White woman who goes missing and is able to get so much immediate attention. It should be the same, if an African American person goes missing, or a Hispanic person goes missing, a Native American … we should have the same type of equal efforts that are being done in these cases,” Grey Bull said.

Yet there is little equity when it comes to missing BIPOC women. 

Black women missing missing white woman syndrome missing and murdered indigenous women

Who is looking for missing BIPOC women?

Over the last 10 years, over 400 Indigenous women have gone missing in Wyoming, where Ms. Petito’s body was found. Yet few, if any, have risen in prominence to the national narrative on missing and exploited people. 

Unfortunately, the same is true for Black women who disappear. “When it comes to missing persons of color — men, women and children — our cases are not taken seriously,” stated Derrica Wilson of the Black and Missing Foundation, in an interview. “No one is looking for us if we were to go missing.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...

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