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Known affectionately as Maxine “The Maverick” Shaw on the hit 90s sitcom Living Single (my favorite show of all-time), it turns out that Erika Alexander is something close to an attorney at law in real life.
Per usual, I was scrolling through the internet and came across an interview Alexander did on the Touré Show in May. The actress and activist discussed the media’s bias in highlighting cases of missing Black girls and women. She specifically honed in on the case of Tamika Huston, a Black woman that went missing 18 years ago.
Earlier this year, Alexander teamed up with Kevin Hart and Charlamagne Tha God to produce the Audible original series, Finding Tamika.The five hour program takes a deeper dive into Huston’s story and also “brings attention to the lack of news coverage our Black families receive for their ‘missing and murdered’ versus our white counterparts. However, Erika is hopeful that programs like this will change that narrative.”
Huston, a 24-year-old nursing student and waitress, vanished in May of 2004 from the house she owned in Spartanburg, South Carolina. But as her aunt, Rebekah Howard, says in Black and Missing, a four-part docuseries streaming on HBO Max, Huston’s disappearance received little attention in a media cycle dominated at that time by stories about Natalee Holloway, and “Runaway Bride” Jennifer Wilbanks.
Howard said, “I was sending (press) releases, I was calling producers, I was calling news desks, every network, every website I could think of, and I hit a brick wall. In my mind I’m thinking, ‘Well, here’s my niece. She’s young, she’s beautiful, she’s missing. Her story is just as compelling.’ The only difference is that Tamika’s Black; Natalee Holloway is white.
Huston’s remains were ultimately found in 2005 after her ex-boyfriend, Christopher Lamont Hampton confessed to her killing. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2006.
During the interview with Touré, Alexander said she wanted to tell this particular story because “Tamika looked like she could’ve been me but also the way she died was so horrific. And Black women and girls, we don’t know who they are. Forget if they go missing, we never really see them.”
Later in the conversation, she touched on the media’s racial bias in coverage of missing cases. “Everybody knows we’ve been on a 20 year obsession with JonBenét Ramsey–it’s like we can’t get off that roller coaster. That little girl died horribly and tragically–she deserves for them to find her killer. But this is an obsession that they have with the so-called mythological presence of these blonde-haired, blue-eyed icons of white superiority. You don’t look for people you don’t care about so of course they’re not going to look for her [Tamika Huston],” said Alexander.
She also expressed the critically important role of national media in helping to find missing Black girls and women, noting that Black media platforms cannot carry the load and urgency alone, as was the case in Huston’s disappearance.
Tamika Huston’s case became a rallying cry for other missing Black women in America and demand soon grew to expose a system that ignores missing girls and women of color. With close to 100,000 girls and women missing in the United States, more activists and organizations are making their voices heard in seeking justice for the victims.
Erika Alexander’s series, Finding Tamika, is available on Audible.