Why Missing Black Women Won't Make Headlines As Gabby Petito Did

Systemic racism in media coverage ‘others’ Black and Brown women and desensitizes the public

Allison Wiltz
Published in
4 min readSep 22, 2021
Photo by Francisco Andreotti on Unsplash

Every year, over half a million people go missing in America. That's a lot of people wholly unaccounted for, gone without a trace. And, while society should pay a lot more attention to these disappearances across the board, the very little air time allotted to these cases centers almost exclusively on White women. Experts dubbed this racially homogenous coverage "missing White woman syndrome."

When 22-year old Gabby Petito went missing for three weeks, her case went viral on social media, with major networks universally picking up the story of her disappearance. Their outrage was justified, as investigators discovered her body on Tuesday, which the medical examiner ruled a homicide.

Her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, was characterized by law enforcement as a person of interest. However, since he returned to his Florida home alone on September 1st without Gabby, her family has continued questioning his role in her disappearance.

"He is not missing. He's hiding," Gabby's father tweeted last weekend. This story is heartbreaking. No parent should have to bury their daughter, especially at such a young age. Clearly, Petito's family deserves justice, and law enforcement is actively seeking information about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.

But I can't help but see the irony of the hypervigilant coverage. When Black and Indigenous women go missing, their names won't make it into headlines. You're not likely to ever hear about any of them. According to Newsbreak, "over 400 Indigenous women went missing over the last decade in the same state as Gabby Petito did." Hearing Gabby Petito's name and none of theirs is the product of White privilege.

The glorification of White women as a standard for beauty skews how mainstream media outlets cover missing person cases. Except for rare instances like Kamala Harris' victory lap, the media rarely "kills Black women with kindness. More often than not, they kill us with silence," which is why we won't see missing Black and Indigenous women…



Allison Wiltz
Writer for

Womanist Scholar bylines @ Momentum, Oprah Daily, ZORA, GEN, Cultured #WEOC Founder - Learn about me @ ☕️

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