Quick. If I say “Runaway Bride.” What comes to mind? Probably either Julia Roberts, or the newmaking Georgia bride with “cold feet.” Now, If I mention the name “Tamika Houston,” what comes to mind? Anybody? Anyone? Bueller?
I know I’ve beat this drum before, but it needs beating again and again, until the point is driven home. I ask these questions to underscore a point made in an article that arrived in my inbox this evening. It compares another case to the now-famous “runaway bride” case.
Tamika Huston has yet to get that kind of attention, even on a slow news day.
Tamika, 24, disappeared nearly a year ago from her home in Spartanburg, S.C. Her car was discovered at a Spartanburg apartment complex about a month after she was last seen.
Local media have been attentive, but the story of Tamika Huston never got a national wind under its sails. Not that Tamika doesn’t fit the profile; she does — young, sparkling, beloved, beautiful and gone without a trace.
It is, in some folks’ views, hypersensitivity, perhaps even paranoia, that leads one to wonder if the oversight might have anything to do with race – Tamika is black. After all, not all missing white women are featured on national newscasts.
But, no missing black women get that kind of attention. Why not?
Could it be that a black woman’s life is just not thought to be as valuable as that of her white peers? Is black tragedy not as tragic? Is black trouble not as troubling? Is black sorrow not as sorrowful?
It doesn’t take a conspiracy to put a Tamika Huston on the back burner; all a producer, host or booker has to do is absorb the messages constantly sent by a society that has historically ignored black circumstance until directly affected by it. It’s not necessarily that they meet and decide not to cover the mystery of Tamika’s fate. It’s that it never occurs to them to cover it.
Of course, Tamkia Houston is just one missing person; one story. And you’re only likely to hear about her if you live in the area where she went missing. Basically, it’s like something I said in another post about race and blogging.
…identity and everything that goes with it—race, gender, orientation, economics, education, etc.—affects what you look at and filters what you see. …how you identify not only affects how you see other people, but whether you see them at all. Chances are the fist people you’ll “see”—those first blips on your radar, the people you’ll automatically pay attention to—will be those with whom you share some element of identity. It’s inevitable. That is, unless you make a conscious effort to do otherwise.
I don’t think that every missing person’s case should get the treatment that this most recent one got. I don’t think Tamika Houston should get splashed across CNN as the “runaway bride” did. The point is that Tamika Houston’s life isn’t worth any less than, say, Laci Peterson’s. The people who miss her don’t love her any less. Her family doesn’t grieve any less than the Petersons miss their daughter. And the same could be said in comparison to many other unheralded cases, but you wouldn’t know it to look at our news.
I do think that all of us, regular folks and the media should pull back and ask ourselves why we look so intently at some cases and not at others, or why we shine the spotlight on some cases and not on others. And when we come up with an answer, we all need to make a conscious effort to do differently.