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Bringing ‘Missing White Women Syndrome’ to the Red Table

A kidnapping survivor and a former federal prosecutor will join Red Table Talk to discuss “Missing White Women Syndrome,” and highlight missing people of color.
Red Table Talk “Help Us Find Missing People with Elizabeth Smart” episode

Laura Coates, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Smart, and Adrienne Banfield Norris on Red Table Talk

The hosts of Red Table Talk are bringing “Missing White Women Syndrome” to the red table, on the Oct. 13th episode, in the wake of the media’s extensive coverage of the Gabby Petito case.

You would have had to make your residence on a remote island to not have heard 22-year-old Gabby Petito went missing this summer following a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. The media made sure everyone was aware of her vanishing until her remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 18th, and then turned its focus to the whereabouts of Laundrie, who remains unaccounted for. The worldwide coverage led to renewed pleas for authorities and the media to pay greater attention to cases of missing Black and Brown people and Indigenous women. Even Gabby Petito’s father, Joe, called out reporters for not giving all missing persons the same attention as his daughter.

“I want to ask everyone to help all the people that are missing and need help. It’s on all of you, everyone that’s in this room to do that,” Joe Petito said while pointing to reporters and cameras in front of him during a press conference on Sept. 28th, reports AP. “And if you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame, because it’s not just Gabby that deserves it.”

His plea inspired Red Table Talk co-hosts Jada Pinkett Smith and AdrienneGammyBanfield Norris to discuss “Missing White Women Syndrome,” a term the late news anchor Gwen Ifill coined for the dichotomy of the media being obsessed with cases of missing white women while virtually ignoring cases involving missing Black and Brown people and Indigenous women. 

The cases of missing white women are given more urgency, despite the fact that people of color are disappearing at disproportionate rates. While Black people make up only 13 percent of the US population, we make up 35 percent of missing persons reports, according to 2020 FBI data obtained by CNN. Similarly, Indigenous people make up 2 percent of the missing persons reports, but only 1 percent of the US population, according to the same data and the US Census Bureau. (In Wyoming, the state in which authorities recovered Gabby Petito’s remains, Indigenous people make up only 3 percent of the population, yet they accounted for 21 percent of homicide victims from 2011 to 2020, reports PBS.) Meanwhile, white people account for 54 percent of missing persons reports and 76 percent of the US population.

In tomorrow’s episode of Red Table Talk, which streams exclusively on Facebook Watch, Pinkett Smith and Banfield Norris will speak with former federal prosecutor Laura Coates about why women of color become someone’s “perfect prey.” Elizabeth Smart, who survived being kidnapped and unthinkable torture, will also join the panel. The “Help Us Find Missing People with Elizabeth Smart” episode is an effort to spotlight the families of missing people who are desperate for answers, like David Robinson whose 24-year-old son Daniel went missing in Arizona on June 23rd.