“Missing White Woman Syndrome” kills
A white girl goes missing, she’s an innocent angel and the alarms are sounded. A Black or Indigenous girl goes missing, she’s a delinquent, willfully defiant, a gang-banger, a whore, and all is silent.
I made a friend in 8th grade summer school, a young Black girl, who months later went missing and was found dead in a fire started by lighted candles in an abandoned home in Detroit.
She was sweet as all get out, open-minded, sharp, kind and patient, which was saying a lot for being part of a motley crew of middle and high school kids in summer school. I remembered how she’d ask everyone about their interests and if she could partake. She’d want to know about the Xs I drew on my hands and what “straight edge” was (embarrassing, I know, but I was 14). She wanted to know about the atheism of the lead goth hottie also in our summer school class, noting that it was OK because she had a grannie that was an atheist too. She genuinely cared and didn’t judge anyone who she asked about. At a time when everyone was always telling me what to do and insulting or denigrating my tastes, it struck me that a peer thought what I was into was interesting.
Yet when she passed, all the newspaper said concerning her life was she was a frequent runaway.
I had always wished we knew the fact that we were both from fucked up homes. Maybe we could have bonded over the fact and things would have turned out differently for her, I thought. I myself was a teen who was in and out of a violent, religiously zealous, disorganized and controlling household. What happened to my summer school friend and to so many young girls of color was my greatest fear. I’d go missing and police would be slow to act considering my background and family history, fliers would only go up in the Black part of town but nowhere else, my faults would be listed ahead of the fact that I was missing, or raped, or dead. That what would be remembered of me would not be the real reasons why I was in and out of my parents’ house, or my interests in music, poetry, reading and history, but that I was poorly behaved and thus “deserved” it, something I knew few in my life would actually work to correct. This is very hard for me to confront and realize but I know deep in my heart, as much as it hurts, it’s true.
In my writing and work, when I talk about sexist narratives, microaggressions, racist stereotypes and the white gaze, honestly, it isn’t because I want to make sure we get another light-skinned girl lead for another shitty “Blockbuster” in a tired, corrupt, over-bloated, rotting corpse industry, it’s much more pressing and immediate for so many of us than that. It’s because these toxic narratives they tell of Black and Indigenous women have real-life weight and implications.
Our society runs on a sick ouroboros of intentional misrepresentation that feeds facets of each other, culture informs media and vice-versa. As a people, we all invest and believe in these victim-blaming and shaming myths of the criminal, wayward, delinquent, hyper-sexual Black and Indigenous girl. A myth that existed since colonialism, it has served to dehumanize us and remove us from resources and from safety. We historically uplift and venerate white women, see their womanhood as delicate and real, as property of white supremacy and requiring protection, and that comes at a cost to women of color, especially Black and Indigenous women, whose womanhood is not recognized and therefore much easier to exploit and aggress. It is because of this narrative that young girls and women like Maylin and so many other Black and Indigenous girls and women across the country are missing or murdered. And no one says a thing.