Where is Athena Curry?

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A SYTYCB entry

Over the weekend, America’s Most Wanted aired a segment on Athena Joy Curry, a 20 year old, African American woman who went missing on May 27, 2011. Until this segment, and The Root article highlighting it, very little attention has been paid to the case in the news media. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time news of a missing African American woman has managed to seep out and cause us to ask, where is she? From media attention, that is.

Reports show that approximately 40% of all missing persons cases are people of color, but the media overwhelmingly reports on cases of white women. I remember lamenting such realities to someone, and they simply replied “that’s what comes with being a minority in America.” A CNN post from years ago expressed similar “practicality” in discussing how tricky it is to decide what cases get reported on:

“I’ve never, not even once, seen a story spiked because the victim was not attractive enough or the wrong race. But I’ve seen plenty of stories fall by the wayside, pushed down and out of the show, because a consensus develops that says, ‘You know, I don’t think our viewers are very interested in this case.’ Is that racism or realism? We can’t cover every murder, but ignoring them all or reporting just statistics seems irresponsible. So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered?”

Such sentiments oversimplify what’s really at play. When a news program’s methodology directs them to report a disproportionate amount of cases on white women, I would hope that journalistic integrity would kick in and make them wonder why this is the case, and that perhaps part of their jobs is to inform the public rather than simply entertain them. (And why the public is entertained by missing women period is perhaps another post).

In response to these disparities in news coverage, the Black and Missing Foundation and TV One decided to take matters into their own hands earlier this year by creating a program called Find Our Missing, whose aim is to address missing person cases where the victim is African American. It’s a step in the right direction, but I couldn’t help thinking of the phrase “separate is inherently unequal” when learning of the program. In missing person cases, disseminating images of the victim is sometimes the best hope, but the ratings of major news sources clearly don’t take that into consideration.

Given the direction news quality is going in, Find Our Missing will have to play an important role in reporting these cases, but it’s hard to accept the fact that if a friend, family member, or I went missing, it wouldn’t be entertaining enough to be shared more broadly.

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