By Sikivu Hutchinson

A few nights ago around 11:00 p.m., virtually everyone in the state of California was rudely jolted into consciousness by a shrill cell phone blasted Amber alert about the abduction of a teenage white girl by a 40 year-old male.  Privileged victim Hannah Anderson (who the media obsessively tell us is blond and blue-eyed) now joins the lily white ranks of “all-American” girls whose fate is an urgent issue of national security.  Breathless, obsessive, round the clock updates and international coverage have been given to this unfolding drama.  This is what I wrote about the phenomenon in 2005 and not a damn thing has changed:

When the news broke earlier this summer about the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, I braced myself for yet another tide of hysterical media coverage about the uncertain fate of a young suburban white woman. I was not disappointed. Consumers of network, cable, and Internet news were treated to a steady stream of obsessive details about Holloway’s life, the last hours she was seen, her family and home community, echoing a pattern that has increasingly come to resemble a by the numbers formula for conferring national heft to the lives of formerly obscure white women.

Back then, criticism from media watchdogs and families of abduction victims of color resulted in an NBC Dateline segment on racial disparities in network news treatment of missing persons’ stories. The bias charges elicited the usual head-scratching deflection and outright denial from news executives. Some of those who were willing to go on the record countered that abduction stories that become national news are generated by momentum from local affiliates. Naturally most network execs see little bias in their coverage because whiteness represents the norm in American culture. White lives, white families, white communities, and the world views of white pundits are sold and reproduced in the mainstream media as the normative “unraced” ideal that underlies “our” sense of national identity. Disproportionate coverage of whites in a society that pimps a colorblind, democratic ideal on the global stage not only naturalizes the invisibility of people of color, but implies that white suburban lives are the ones that are ultimately most worth caring about.  This explains why only a third of whites believed that George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin was unjust.

The role that femininity plays in the portrayal of these two Americas is critical. It’s no surprise that white female victimhood is still all the rage in the 24-7 news media for images of imperiled white femininity have historically been the currency of cultural narratives of ethnic and racial hysteria, manifest destiny, and national identity. One of the most influential early examples of media and cinematic propaganda to exploit this theme was D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation. The moral compass of Griffith’s film was the threat that the rape of white women by black men posed to the racial purity, national stability, and socioeconomic development of post- Civil War America. Rape and miscegenation were portrayed as the endgame of Reconstruction, a mortal threat to white control of the Union and justification for the lynching of black men. While the savage racial terrorism of Birth seems primitive to mainstream America, it provided a media template for the association of white femininity with purity, innocence, and victimhood.

The underside of the idealization of white femininity is the projection of immoral hypersexuality onto black women in particular and women of color in general. Stereotypes of sexually loose, “ghetto” black women, hot-blooded Latinas, and Lotus Blossom Asian fetish objects cast women of color as the antithesis of normative white femininity. It is little wonder then that female victims of color never score on the national radar. Stories on missing women such as LaToyia Figueroa, Ardena Carter, Mitrice Richardson and Myra Howard don’t generate tabloid heat because there is no corresponding association of feminine innocence or normative cultural values with the lives of urban black or Latino women. Narratives of the imperiled white female highlight the suburban virtues of white Middle America and not so subtlely evoke the social pathologies of the so-called inner city. Indeed, the increasingly intimate spectacles of grief, mourning, and community outrage that we see on CNN and FOX not only program viewers to identify with the injustice that has been done to the victim and her family, but to her community. In the world of 24-7 tabloid media these victims become our girls, our daughters; and if this horror could happen in these ostensibly crime-free normal white suburban communities it could very well happen to us.

Yet the white “us” will never make a connection between the massive expenditure of media time and resources on the investigation of say, the sham abduction of disgraced “runaway bride” Jennifer Wilbanks (who was savvy enough to finger a Latino man as one of her alleged abductors), and the fact that fifty years after The March on Washington and forty years after the passage (and now gutting) of the Voting Rights Act America is even more segregated, polarized and steeped in a culture of white entitlement that calls itself colorblind.

For more information on the organized movement to promote the stories of missing children of color contact the Black and Missing Foundation or the Missing Children of Color Foundation.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels

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  1. 1

    I wish there was something that I could say to this, but there is not. Our society is so twisted, and now people just want to turn away from this, and pretend that it doesn’t exist. I want to say that my grandsons will grow up in a society where people will see who they are, not the color of their skin or the texture of their hair and instantly put them into a category of “different.” I had hope when we elected a bi-racial president that things were changing, but it seems that instead of progressing, we have slid back fifty years. I am so sad for our country.

  2. 2

    I got Amber Alerted when I was watching a dramatic movie scene in my living room in Seattle, about someone missing from Cali that was supposed to possibly be in Tacoma. Tacoma is 30 miles away through the worst traffic in the region. If I’m in my living room in Seattle, what are the odds I’m going to be in Tacoma to notice this person anytime soon? Could they narrow the scope of these things?

    Anyhow, the first thing I thought was, “Why aren’t we hearing these several times a day?” Surely, people go missing under sheisty circumstances a lot more often than this. How is it decided which gets an Amber Alert? The disturbing interests of Nancy Grace could be informative.

    I feel like it could bear mentioning somewhere that privileged victim is still a victim of a terrible circumstance and deserves an equal effort to try to recover her and get justice – that the “equal” part is the point of the post. Not because I think you don’t care about white kidnap victims, but because stupid people are gonna run up in these comments screaming that.

    1. 2.1

      Anyhow, the first thing I thought was, “Why aren’t we hearing these several times a day?” Surely, people go missing under sheisty circumstances a lot more often than this. How is it decided which gets an Amber Alert? The disturbing interests of Nancy Grace could be informative.

      Criteria for an amber alert:
      Law enforcement must confirm that an abduction has taken place.
      The child must be at risk of serious injury or death.
      There must be sufficient descriptive information of child, and captor, or captor’s vehicle to issue an alert.
      The child must be 18 years old or younger.

      I know at least one state has dropped the requirement for the first criteria. The second seems hit or miss.

      The third is what really distinguishes the amber alert from a normal abduction/missing report, and at least in my state, there has to be a strong description of the captor and/or captor’s vehicle (usually requires a make/model, color, and license plate #). Several times a year in my state (maybe once every 2-3 months or so) amber alerts go off state-wide. Most commonly it’s due to a parental abduction of a child, several times in the last few years it’s been a parental abduction from a hospital.

      1. Again, this was the first time that CA issued a statewide Amber Alert through cell phones, notifying virtually everyone in the state with a device and catapulting the abduction into international headlines

  3. 3

    I remember when the whole Peterson thing happened I kept thinking: WHAT is all the fuss about? Yeah, young woman disappeared, yeah, pregnant. Happens about twice a fucking day. Then it turns out her husband did it. Again, happens every day. One of the most common causes of death in pregnant women in this country is murder by a husband or boyfriend.

    It’s not that it is not terrible. It is not that I hate it and feel distress about it, but it happens all the time. The only time anyone but the local authorities give a single god damn is if the woman is pretty and white. And that outrages me. It is part of the reason that I have pretty much quit watching the news because I get so mad at this sort of thing.

    So I sincerely hope that Hannah makes it home okay. I really do. And I hope as well that all the other young women, the one’s who aren’t white or pretty make it home too. And damn all the people who drool over a good “white girl gone missing” story and ignore all the others.

    1. 3.2

      What You Said.

      We see the same thing here in Canada, where literally dozens of First Nations women have gone missing from Vancouver, but new disappearances barely crack page 20 of the paper, and no one is talking about them outside of First Nations themselves, and a few social justice activists. Also happens to other PoC, but we’re a whiter country than the US generally (though thankfully that’s been changing in the last few decades, with robust immigration going on).

  4. 4

    Even if it’s true that the bias in the coverage comes from local affiliates rather than network HQ, that’s not much of a defense–it basically says “we aren’t trying to be racist, but we don’t care enough to even notice, let alone do something, about the racism of the affiliates.” I suppose they produce no programming themselves, and Good Morning America and the Today show not only don’t exist, they never have.

    1. 5.1

      Not sure I think this kid is very privileged, since she apparently has been kidnapped and had her family burned alive.

      Yes, because well-to-do white families are protected from all bad things. Next I suppose you’ll suggest maybe they weren’t all that “well-to-do” because something horrible happened to them?

      In the extremely unlikely event you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to make a valid point in good faith, you’re conflating 2 different definitions of “privilege” here. Sikivu is pointing out that the girl is white and pretty/able-bodied, perhaps also that she is not known to be gay or trans and not from a low-income household. I’m sure the part about her being “creeped out” by the guy’s advances factors in, too, because now we have proof that she wasn’t just a slut who was asking for it. Without these components, the media would not suggest shock! and outrage! about her disappearance.

    2. 5.2

      Privileged because, due to the historical legacies of structural racism and white supremacy, the lives, humanity, communities and circumstances of white victims are privileged by industries and institutions (mainstream media, public policy and the considerable material resources of law enforcement vis-a-vis investigation, search and rescue, surveillance, etc) that in turn systematically demonize, exclude devalue, and marginalize victims of color. Privileged because a whole industry has sprung up to valorize, romanticize and promote, via an endless assortment of TV shows, documentaries, tabloids and movies, the plight of missing white women (regardless of class) to the exclusion of victims of color. Privileged because the names of missing and abducted white women (from Chandra Levy to Jon Benet Ramsey to Jaycee Dugard to Elizabeth Smart to Laci Peterson to Hannah Anderson) are relentlessly seared into the consciousness of mainstream America via national and global media like AOL, CNN, Fox, etc. that indoctrinate millions to view white females as the most innocent, valued, proper victims; a dynamic which then informs white dominance in TV, film, advertising and modeling and that in turn influences the way whiteness is normalized/naturalized as the ultimate signifier and paradigm of beauty, human worth, morality and “civilization”. Consequently, law enforcement and the criminal justice system are not trained to see victims of color (be they victims of state violence like Oscar Grant, Aiyanna Jones, Eulia Love, Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Elinor Bumphers; victims of vigilante murder like Trayvon Martin; or all the “nameless” victims of sex trafficking or abduction that mainstream America will never ever be introduced to through endless CNN/Headline News/Fox streaming/commentaries/profiles/breaking news bulletins, AOL/Yahoo/MSN blurbs, Nancy Grace testimonies, People/US/Nat’l Enquirer covers, Lifetime channel movies, etc etc etc) as proper victims deserving of due process and social justice.

      Privileged, in the final analysis, because how many black/Asian/Latino/Native American abduction victims have been consistently promoted and humanized via the institutions above and how many could you name before reading this article???

      1. You don’t have to convince me of the double standard in the media about victims of crime. That said, words mean things, and calling someone privileged who has been kidnapped and their family killed isn’t much of a privilege. The very word privilege denotes something good that someone would want, and I would guess that most people wouldn’t be very envious of a scared kid who just lost her family.

        It’s also an important point about privilege – it can be taken away. The Steubenville rapist were quite privileged – one black male and one white male who played football and were popular in their community. Now they sit in prison, divested of any privilege that they had. Now they are at the whim and mercy of the government – someone tells them when to pee and and when to poop and when to eat and when to read and when to speak. By any standard, they aren’t privileged.

        If someone is the victim of a brutal crime, I don’t think talking about their privilege is particularly relevant.

        1. This would be true if privilege were an internal thing, but it is not. Privilege is accorded to people by society. For example, if I (a blue-eyed white woman) go through airport security or the border, nothing I can do or say is going to make the screeners be as suspicious of me as they will be of the brown-skinned man behind me.

          So, even though I use a cane as a person with a disability, and even though I’m trans (though most IRL people don’t know that), and even though I’m poorer than the church mice, I can clearly be seen to have privilege.

          Your problem is you’re thinking of privilege as a single-axis system, a sort of binary option: you either have it or you don’t. That’s not how it works. Despite my considerable disadvantages, it would be absurd to say that a brown-skinned person with the same disadvantages as I have would have it as well as I do in some ways.

          So: a Black woman of the same age and circumstances as this missing white woman would have less privilege than the missing white woman. That’s the point of this post, the point of the word privilege as used in it and as used generally in sociological and social-justice contexts. Since that’s what it is, giving a dictionary definition of the term and saying it means the post is wrong misses the point; the post is not making a simplistic, single-axis argument about privilege, but a multi-layered, nuanced one about the ways in which some factors can lead to more privilege over someone else with a minimal pair of the same factors (meaning, they differ in only the one identifiable way).

        2. Edward – They are not using the word “privilege” in the generic way. That’s why you and other commentors are missing each other’s points. You are speaking about privilege, while they are speaking about Privilege. Privilege is a body of concepts that have come out of a line of thinking called “Social Justice.” For this woman she has some privileges and some “non”-privileges. She is white +1, she is a woman -1, she is able-bodied +1…and so on. Her collection of privileges is called “intersectionality.” It’s okay if you don’t want to learn about all this stuff – just be aware that you are speaking a totally different language.

          1. I hope we can be a little more nuanced about intersectionality than that? It goes something more like:
            She is white, so + (having the police take her case seriously, being perceived as less threatening and more competent than a person of color, etc.), she is able bodied, so + (being taken seriously generally, and probably having greater capacity to fight back or run away, etc.), she is a woman, so – (being perceived in most contexts as a whole and nuanced person, rather than a personification of innocence or sluttiness, etc.).

            So, for instance, in Trayvon Martin’s case, intersectionality didn’t come out to “male +1, black -1” It came out to “Male, so + (being comfortable defending himself physically, etc.), but black, so – (being able to act reasonably in self defense without irrational fear and violence based in internalized racism lashing back at him, etc.).

            Also, nice scare quotes around “social justice.” :/

          2. Tadeina – (I can’t do a direct reply) YOU can be more nuanced than I was but I cannot. I just am not well-versed enough to pull it off. This is what I hate about the Social Justice community. I was simply letting this commentor know that they were talking apples to oranges and I gave him two terms to look up to get started.

            I wasn’t trying to show how much I know — just giving the person a lead or two. Social Justice people are constantly berating other people and sending them into a vortex of confusion and shame. I am not going to let you do that to me as you tried to by claiming I wasn’t nuanced enough and saying I’d used scare quotes.

            Your post was more a restatement of the original article’s thesis and would only confuse a newbie. Seems to me you are more interested in showing what you know than actually trying to help someone who truly is not at all aware of the tools being used in the analysis.

          3. Kristi: I don’t think they were talking apples to oranges; social-justice usage of the term “privilege” emerges directly from common usage. It differs only in that it is further developed.

            I’m also not trying to show off–I’m trying to articulate something, in terms that might be useful to others. Thank you for informing me of how I was coming off.

            I think that the simple + 1, -1 notion of intersectionality is inaccurate, and leads to damaging conclusions. Furthermore, it is a sort of “straw-intersectionality” that I have often seen used by people who wish to criticize social justice as a goal.

            I am sorry I made you feel confused or ashamed. Do you have suggestions about how I might better have communicated these points?

          4. Tadeina,

            Actually, your message was wonderful and helped me understand exactly where you are coming from. I think together, this back and forth between us would actually make for good reading if someone came here and didn’t understand the difference btw privilege and Privilege. My explanation was rudimentary, your’s more sophisticated and maybe the juxtapositioning will help others.

            You didn’t make me feel confused but there was a time a few years ago when I stumbled into a few situations that were heartbreaking for me because I didn’t know what I didn’t know!! Just trying to save people the anguish.

            Thanks for that last message 🙂 I was feeling defensive-by-proxy and your last message made me feel better.

        3. Privilege has been explained to Edward a million times before and he chooses to refuse to understand what is meant by it. I say choose as he is supposedly some kind of lawyer so presumably has the capability.

          But good comments from CatieCat and Kristl above, at least the lurkers reading this will have a good chance of seeing where Edward is wrong even if he will never see it himself.

          1. Yeah, I didn’t know either, thanks for the heads-up, oolon. I’m still glad I made the comment, because I think it’s a good thing for people to get to read about over and over and over, so we can get less silly objections like this.

          2. I think I understand pretty well what privilege or Privilege means. I’m not confused about it. My main point is that saying someone is Privileges does mean something. Whatever definition you want to use, we are talking about some benefit reserved for some class of people. But for it to be a meaningful word, you can’t simply just say everybody is privileged (even if everyone is in some way over someone else).

            So saying this girl is privileged because she is white and blond and “normal,” makes some sense, but only if you ignore the part where her family was killed and she was abducted. There are more axes of privilege than we could possibly count in ten lifetimes. We focus on issues of gender and race and sexuality because they are historically and currently very important, but also because they are very easy. We can very easily identify and make statistics about people based on race. It is much harder to do when we get away from these traditional axes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. “Family set on fire” and “abducted by murderer’ are also axes of privilege, and clearly this girl experienced these very traumatic and awful things.

          3. Edward – okay then, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and I guess you didn’t need that bc you knew exactly what you were doing.

            Most social justice discussion participants call what you are doing “derailing.” Instead of discussing this case from within the Social Justice paradigm of Privileges, you are arguing that the paradigm of Privileges is inherently flawed. Maybe there’s a place for that discussion somewhere, but I think that’s not what most of the people commenting on this thread are here to do.

            That means then, you are trying to hijack the conversation and steer the discussion toward what you feel is more important a topic than the one actually being written about and discussed.

            I find your choice of topics not very edifying — I like the original topic much better.

          4. I don’t think so. Derailing would be going on about a new topic. This isn’t a new topic – it’s addressing what was said. Is this person a “privileged white victim.” Technically, yes, I guess, but what do we mean by privilege if we are going to put this girl in a privileged class? Not much helpful, I’m afraid.

            Nor am I saying the concept of privilege is inherently flawed. It’s not flawed at all. What is flawed is obsessing too much about privilege based on race and gender to the exclusion of the literally millions of other things that affect our privilege. Racism and sexism is rooted in this simplicity – finding easy differences and classifying people based on them without much thought as to if it’s factually correct or the right thing to do. Limiting the conversation about privilege to race and gender is also based on the same errors.

            That isn’t to say that the point of the article is wrong. By many accounts white women from middle to upper class backgrounds get a lot higher profile coverage than other people. That doesn’t make this particular crime victim a privileged person. Almost by definition she is not privileged.

  5. 6

    Meanwhile, in an Oakland middle class neighborhood, Sandra Coke went missing after going to meet someone who said they had her dog, which had been stolen during a burglary. She was a Federal Investigator who happened to be black. No coverage outside of the local news. I see her body was found this morning. Will probably only run in the local news….because after all, she’s black.

  6. 7

    I still find it hard to accept that people deny that this is the case, and even harder to accept the way that some people are whingeing about Sikivu’s post on the matter. This is so gaddamned well-known that it is a cultural trope, one that tends to show up in the pointed comedy of the socially critical. It blows my mind that any news-product entertainment outfit or law enfarcement organization would argue that this is not the case, right to your face, without looking like a five year old child trying really hard to lie about something ridiculous and failing miserably.

  7. Pen

    I had a serious think about this post because I saw criticism elsewhere that its attitude towards white victims seemed callous to the point of racism. It’s true that rhe word privileged has connotations in ordinary speech that don’t let it sit comfortably alongside ‘victim’. I know you didn’t mean ‘privileged as a victim’ but I think you missed an opportunity to analyse whether there are benefits or disadvantages to this treatment at the hands of the media.

    We might imagine that publicity for a crime makes it more likely to be resolved with the extra eyes of the public brought to bear. On the other hand, it might make an abductor act more cautiously or quickly dispose of a victim who was still alive. Probably someone, somewhere has done research on the outcomes of publicity for different kinds of crime. Conclusion: depends on research, but you probably think it’s advantageous since you’re campaigning for a higher profile for black victims.

    Then there is the situation of the victims’ family and friends who are exposed to this coverage. Some people may imagine the sense of being supported is helpful, others presume that if anything could add to the horror of the situation, this is it. One thing for sure, the families themselves aren’t consulted. At the same time, as we’ve seen lately, publicised victims and their families are often subject to explicit abuse as well as messages of support. Some families hope that submitting to the process will help. In cases where there’s an obvious social or legal change that could prevent future tragedies, families of victims in the public eye and with public sympathy have an advantage in bringing it about. I’m not sure that happens ever so often. Conclusion: occasionally coverage gives enormous power to effect social change, predominantly, though not always to families of white victims, mostly it’s a mixed or uncertain blessing.

    Then there’s the question of what really lies behind this media interest. There’s no doubt in my mind that the sympathy extended to these ‘innocent white victims’ is anything but pure and geared to maximum utility. There’s a real smack of Roman Games about the whole thing, with the public taking a puerile and obsessive interest in the details of a crime under the cover of universal moral outrage. The fact that they don’t spend their time fantasising on the horrors that have struck young black women or children isn’t the problem. The fact that they don’t care at all is, and the way in which some people regularly express their lack of concern disgusts me. But both over representation and lack of it provide an excuse for avoiding social and political issues while indulging in gratifying emotions at other people’s expense. Conclusion: media representation of black and white victims differs and both are bad.

    And finally there’s the question of impact on the viewers. I’m also quite certain that this persistent victimisation of white women in the media produces fear in white women and girls, independent of actual risk. I probably shouldn’t presume on the experiences of black women but if you told me they identify with the victims as women and feel the fear, then add a dose of knowing nobody will care much what happens to them I would believe you. However, white women live with the knowlege that getting people to care about them, while a possibility, isn’t a given. It’s also dependent on them reaching a high standard of ‘perfect’ behaviour – which seems to drive a fair bit of neurotic and hypocritical behaviour. Prostitutes and ‘sluts’ need not apply for sympathy or help. Conclusion: this type of coverage is bad for all women and very likely worse for black women.

    1. 8.1

      See all of the comments above. The social, economic, political and material benefits of institutional racism and white supremacy, i.e., white privilege, don’t just “shut down” or get negated by systematized patriarchy/misogyny or the horrific individual circumstances of victimized white people. And, as I point out in the article, this systematized race/gender/class hierarchy of (de)humanization has a long history and deep material implications for the way women of color are treated in the criminal justice system. Because a state-wide Amber Alert was issued FOR THE FIRST TIME via electronic devices, magnified nationally and projected globally in unrelenting media coverage (which included loving testimonies from worried friends and family that were broadcast around the clock on national media, as well as a front page cover story/picture on this morning’s L.A. Times of FBI helicopters post-rescue, coverage I’ve never seen accorded POC), massive federal law enforcement resources were expended, Hannah Anderson was found alive and her captor was killed. The families of all the young women of color I cite in the article would have no doubt given their eyeteeth for the systematized exposure that this massive marshaling of federal resources and global media might have brought in validating, humanizing and potentially recovering their loved ones.

      1. I don’t think Pen was arguing anything related to whether privilege caused the uproar. I think almost anyone will agree that the pretty white girl got all the coverage.

        I loved the angle of your thesis that talked about the role that the perceived innocence plays and how that presumption of purity isn’t awarded to others.

        That said, I’m pretty sure Pen was simply asking a different question: they seemed to be saying that high-profile attention like an amber alert could be examined and the question should be, “Is media focus on a missing person good for that person? or bad? and is it good for the family? or bad? and is it good for other people of the same or similar demographic? or bad?”

        I think it’s a marginally interesting question, but I would come down on the side you imply – that media focus is, for the most part, a good thing. And Pen’s questions I don’t find as interesting. But that doesn’t mean they missed the point of your article.

      2. Pen

        @ black skeptics – I don’t know what you thought my point was but Kristl summed it up exactly. And here we are, coverage did in this case confer a privilege, since it is the reason the victim was found. The only thing hat puzzles me is why, if that’s the general case, it should seem peripheral.

        1. Pen –
          So this thing called “Privilege” that BlackSkeptics is writing about is NOT the dictionary definition of privilege. It’s a special meaning that is used by people who know the ins and outs of a field called Social Justice. Originally when I replied I thought you had not called “privilege” into question, but I saw later that you had. Your statement:

          Tells me you are using “privilege” (dictionary) not “Privilege” (Social Justice). And BlackSkeptics didn’t miss any opportunity – they simply chose a different dimension along which to do an analysis. It’s a dimension you are not familiar with – and that’s okay. But arguing a dictionary definition will make you seem tone deaf and no one wants that!! (I wouldn’t)

          So – your questions are valid — but be careful with deciding that the author should have taken an entirely different approach in their article. If you want more references on Privilege, let me know.

          1. I thought I quoted your message – let me try this again:

            “It’s true that rhe word privileged has connotations in ordinary speech that don’t let it sit comfortably alongside ‘victim’. I know you didn’t mean ‘privileged as a victim’ but I think you missed an opportunity to analyse”

          2. Pen

            Actually Kristl, I was saying that it upset some people (elsewhere) who presumably aren’t familiar with social theory and I understand where they’re coming from – as you say, from the standard dictionary definition of privilege. Where I differ from some people, possibly including Sikhivu (I’m not sure) is this: while I’m fine with privilege as a theoretical construct, I think the purpose of that construct is to trace or explain differential outcomes between two groups of people, with whatever causes the more positive outcome being called privilege – obviously (at least to me) the long term aim of the process is to rectify imbalances in an upward direction. Considering the impact and outcomes of this particular differential treatment is what I was trying to do – though it needs more knowledge than I have.

          3. Here’s the dictionary definition of privilege:

            a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor : prerogative; especially : such a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office

            So. Let’s say a hypothetical ambassador from Spain is abducted, and her family is murdered, all on American soil. Let’s say, hypothetically, she kills the people who committed these crimes. Because of the privilege of her diplomatic immunity, she will not need to stand trial in the US for those killings unless she is first extradited.

            The privilege of diplomatic immunity wouldn’t come into play unless she committed some crimes it protected her from having to stand trial for–but she would still have it.

            Maybe someone would say that isn’t privilege, but they would be misunderstanding or misapplying the dictionary definition of privilege.

            The social justice construction merely asserts that identities such as race, gender, and social class are positions to which certain privileges attach. You may be correct in asserting that survivors of trauma and people being held against their will are people from whom certain privileges have been removed–but those are not the privileges inherent, for instance, to white skin in American culture.

            The privileges that are removed would have to be “rights and immunities” that are no longer “granted” by society. So, for instance, someone who is being held hostage may no longer have the right to command military officers that were previously under their command.

  8. 9

    When I came home last evening I saw that Hannah Anderson was found, alive and physically unharmed and that her abductor had been killed by LE.

    I also read about the amount of resources (federal, state and county) that were deployed in this case. I’m not a statistician or even good at chasing down gobs of raw data. It is, however, my strong suspicion that departmental budgets were not considered in this situation and that the amount of money spent for OT and extra manpower will prove to be as much as an order of magnitude greater than is spent when a poor, black or other nonwhite, gay or other “untouchable” goes missing.

  9. 10

    Just one comment I want to add, is that there also seems to be a high degree of randomness in which “missing white woman” stories become national news. Demographically similar young white girls go missing all the time and don’t get picked up by the national news. Some of it has to do with looks (so there’s a misogynist element), and some of it has to do with classism… but there also seems to be a large random component.

    Which of course I think is another factor that helps blind people to the racist/privilege aspects operating here. For every young photogenic black girl who goes missing and is ignored by the national news media, I can probably point to a young photogenic white girl who goes missing and is ignored — so if I wanted to deny there was a racist angle at work here, I could go with that argument. The random noise distracts from the powerful systemic biases.

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    A fair point: I’m assuming it’s random, because I can’t identify the pattern, but that’s somewhat of an argument from ignorance — it may or may not be random, it’s simply an unidentified factor at this point. Some of it may have to do with the PR capacities/proclivities of the families, I suspect..?

    In any case, I do think that because of the rapid and self-consuming news cycle we have these days, I am inclined to believe that there is a degree of practical randomness, simply because it’s a positive feedback loop. Once a missing persons story becomes national news, it stays national news. There may be a bit of a butterfly/hurricane effect going on here, where it’s not random per se, but small changes can have such a large effect that it appears random.

    Nevertheless, point taken: It’s an unidentified factor, not necessarily a random factor. I do think that in either case it distracts people from seeing the systemic biases.

          1. Interesting. Though, if you read what I *did* with the dictionary definition of privilege–which is rather closer to the sociological usage than the dictionary definition of racism–hopefully it would be obvious that I am not on his team?

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