Monday, October 01, 2007

More Than a Photo-Op?
When Pretty Women Go Missing

When surfing for news about black folks, I usually log on to the “ghetto grapevine” before I visit CNN or the New York Times. The black underground was where I first learned about Megan Williams’ rape and torture in West Virginia and the Jena 6. These outlets may not always be objective in their reporting, but when it comes to covering issues affecting the black community, they make the mainstream media look like they’re running on CP time.

While browsing the message boards of one popular black Web site, I came across the name Nailah Franklin. The 28-year-old sales rep from Chicago had been missing for a week at the time and was presumed dead. Cyber prayer circles were forming. Condolences were being offered in advance. Calamity united total strangers.

Then the blow came: Nailah’s badly decomposed body was discovered behind a vacant store. It was so unrecognizable, she had to be identified through dental records. Shock quickly turned to sadness as mourners remarked on how unfair it was for someone so pretty to meet with such a tragic end.

Pretty. Beautiful. Wholesome. These are just a few adjectives used to describe the young woman. I confess, when I first glimpsed Nailah’s picture, I couldn't stop staring at it. In every pose, she looks sun-kissed. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I wonder if Nailah’s case would have garnered national attention if she weren’t so photogenic.

A recent Sun Times commentary said Nailah’s “all-American girl face” humanized her disappearance. That leads my inner cynic to inquire: If Nailah resembled Serena Williams – a woman whose features are not considered as American as apple pie – would her story still be endearing? Are we more sympathetic when disaster strikes pretty people?

Our culture places such a high premium on beauty that missing black women who don’t typify the all-American ideal fail to earn equal face time on the nightly news. "Unless it's a pretty girl ages 20 to 35, the media exposure is just not there," says Kelly Bennett, a case manager for the National Center for Missing Adults.

A story that has not received a significant amount of coverage is the disappearance of 22-year-old Stepha Henry. An honors graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, Stepha vanished on May 29, 2007 while vacationing in Florida. Although she received a paragraph or two in a few media outlets, her story was largely ignored.

Many blacks decried the lack of coverage for Stepha’s case, and considered her a casualty of Missing White Woman Syndrome. This mocking phrase describes relentless media pursuit of photogenic "damsels in distress," among them Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson and Jessie Marie Davis.

I don't mean to trivialize the tragedy that befell Nailah Franklin. She was a vibrant young woman who was well-loved by family and friends, and she didn't deserve to die. Yet, I hope she is not reduced to a photo-op used to sell newspapers and ad space. Women of color who go missing are underreported in the media, so I’m thankful when these stories get any mention. I hope her case shines a spotlight on other sisters who vanish from parking lots and restaurants and sidewalks across America — regardless of age, economic background or good looks.

I know it’s impossible for the mainstream media to report on every woman who fails to make it home, but I hope future cases aren’t assigned relevance based on beauty.


PrettyBlack said...

Wow I never even thought of it in terms of beauty. I've always thought of it in terms of racial significance. Basically, the white girls get the coverage and the sisters don't. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't take partial blame.

Nailah's(sp)friends scoured everywhere looking for her, they made sure their cries were heard. Sometimes we have to stop waiting for others to do something for us and initiate the "something" for ourselves. My prayers go to her family.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank the person who wrote that aricle regarding Nailah's death. It is indeed thought provoking!!

Being an Older African American female I have heard, seen so many hateful crimes committed upon women through out the years.. most especially the African American woman. Yes, race plays a factor in getting your story "out there", but in these times, the importance and significance of beauty has become the standard of what is important.

The African American family and their respective communities must be called upon to react immediately when someone is "missing". In this case, it appeared that her family and friends were "well connected" and knew the "right people" to help spread word about this horrible event throughout the Chicagoland area. It's who you know; not what you know that gets results. Therefore, I have nothing but the highest regards to Naliah's family for doing a job well done. The family gave us all a blueprint in how to create an atmosphere of concern, worry and determination in bringing justice to the "guilty party".

As the other poster stated
"Sometimes we have to stop waiting for others to do something for us and initiate the "something" for ourselves." And I might add, "by whatever means necessary"!

In closing, I have watched, and cried many tears for Nailah Franklin. Her suffering is over. Now my prayers our for the family, who has displayed classic style and grace before, during and after this tragedy. God Bless You..