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Gabby Petito and missing white people syndrome

Gabby Petito
A makeshift memorial dedicated to missing woman Gabby Petito is located near City Hall on September 20, 2021 in North Port, Florida. A body has been found by authorities in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming that fits the description of Petito, who went missing while on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. |

Gabby Petito and her fiancé, Brian Laundre, started what was supposed to be a four-month cross-country, van-life trip in July. Their trip across America was supposed to end sometime in November.

However their trip — and apparently, Gabby Petito’s life — ended sometime in August. 

Gabby Petito’s last conversation with her family was through a FaceTime call on August 24th. Her last social media post was on August 25th. And her last sighting was at a Wyoming restaurant on August 27th.

Earlier this month, on the first day of September, her fiance — Brian Laundre — returned to their home in Florida with their van and without her. 

He hired a lawyer and maintained silence. He refused to speak with the Petito family and he refused to cooperate with the police. So on September 11, Gabby Petito was officially reported missing. The following week, police officers lost track of Brian Laundre’s whereabouts and reported that he was also missing.

That attracted more media attention to a case that had already received significant coverage across social media and national and international media.

The significant social media attention created several helpful tips for police officers, leading them to discover Gabby Petito’s corpse in Wyoming earlier this week. 

Naturally, police officers have identified Brian Laundre as a suspect in Petito’s murder. They’re still searching for him.

While police officers are investigating the motives for Gabby Petito’s murder, critical race theorists have already determined the motive behind national and international attention to her murder. 

According to critical race theorists, Petito shouldn’t be solely remembered as a victim of murder — she should also be remembered as a beneficiary of white privilege. Particularly, they believe she’s the latest major example of what they’ve termed, “missing white woman syndrome.”

“Missing white woman syndrome” suggests Western culture — and the world as a whole —reinforces white supremacy and white privilege by prioritizing missing white women over non-white missing women. It suggests racism is the basis for why missing white women disproportionately receive more attention than missing non-white women.

If you’re surprised critical race theorists would force supposed racism into Gabby Petito’s case, you shouldn’t be. Critical race theory is designed to identify the supposed role of racism in every facet of society. 

As James Lindsey consistently suggests, critical race theorists never ask: “Did racism play a role in this instance?”.  No, they ask: “How did racism take place in this instance?”

In other words, critical race theorists believe racism is always a factor in everything. This is why, in their minds, we need to be critical of — or deconstruct — every idea or event in our world in order to identify their racist roots or racist results.

In their book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic describe racism as:

“Ordinary, not aberrational — “normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.”

Therefore, according to critical race theorists — it’s normal science, ordinary, and the usual way society does business to prioritize Gabby Petito over missing non-white women.

Apparently, in the state of Wyoming — where Gabby Petito’s body was found—over 700 indigenous women have been reported missing over the last ten years, but none of the women received the kind of attention Petito received after she was reported missing.

But that isn’t an example of white supremacy or white privilege. Since critical race theorists prioritize supposed racism over everything, they refuse to acknowledge inconvenient factors.

For instance, the concept of “missing white woman syndrome” cannot answer why Gabby Petito is receiving more attention than other missing or murdered white women. Indeed, the concept of “missing white woman syndrome” includes the role of intersectionality. Particularly, critical race theorists would suggest the reason why Gabby Petito is receiving more attention than other missing or murdered white women is that she’s a middle-class white woman.

However, that actually defeats their original premise — since it admits supposed racism isn’t the only basis for why she’s getting significant attention. If racism isn’t the sole or primary reason why Gabby Petito is receiving more attention than other missing or murdered women, then the concept of “missing white woman syndrome” is a fallacy.

Nevertheless, if Gabby Petito is receiving more attention than other missing or murdered white women because she was a middle-class woman, why is she receiving more attention than other white middle-class women or white upper-class women who are also reported missing?

Racial disparities are not evidence of racial discrimination. Disparities in media attention to missing cases do not independently prove racism. 

Interestingly, some of the prominent people complaining about the media’s disproportionate coverage of missing cases are members of the media like MSNBC’s Joy Reid. The media consistently blames their own supposed failures on society as a whole. If Joy Reid genuinely believes in “missing white woman syndrome,” why does she participate in it? Why did she only highlight it in a segment about Gabby Petito? Why hasn’t she taken the time on her own show to highlight all the non-white missing or murdered women?

There are several reasons why Gabby Petito has received significant attention, and there’s no legitimate reason to believe racism is one of these reasons. Petito was a Youtuber with a relatively strong social media following. She was also a member of the close-knit van life community.

The details surrounding her case are also peculiar. Her fiancé, Brian Laundre, had a strange return to Florida without her, then he disappeared, prompting a manhunt. His parents allegedly helped him escape police surveillance. The police officers seemingly mishandled the case. Gabby Petito and Brian Laundre’s consistent social media photos about their van life trip created a social media footprint that attracted social media sleuths and true crime fanatics. These social media sleuths and van life social media influencers produced viral social media posts that provided police officers strong tips, leading them to discover Gabby Petito’s body.

Gabby Petito is the victim of an exceptionally odd and evil missing person and murder case. That’s the main reason why her case has received significant attention. 

Another reason why her case has received major coverage is that her missing-person case and murder case was unexpected. Clearly, given the reaction to her case — the media believes it’s abnormal for women like her to become victims of murder.  And the media apparently believes it’s abnormal for people like her fiancé to become a perpetrator of murder.

We have higher expectations for men like Brian Laundre. And we have higher hopes for women like Gabby Petito. In other words, we do not have the bigotry of low expectations for people like Brian Laundre and Gabby Petito. 

We reserve that for non-white people. Especially, we reserve the bigotry of low expectations for black people.

You see, the reason why hypocrites like Joy Reid in the media do not highlight non-white victims is that if they highlight non-white victims of crime, they would have to highlight non-white perpetrators of crime too. 

If members of the media like Joy Reid want to highlight black victims of crime, they would also have to highlight black perpetrators of crime. The media isn’t interested in spotlighting the shocking levels of black-on-black crime. They don’t care.

The media’s reaction to Gabby Petito isn’t an example of racism. The media’s soft bigotry of low expectations on black-on-black crime is the real example of racism.

In their minds, the good in highlighting black victims of black-on-black crime isn’t worth the “bad” in highlighting black perpetrators of black-on-black crime.

A black person’s death is only noteworthy for the media if it involves a white person or a white police officer.

This is why black victims of apparent police brutality receive disproportionately more coverage than white victims of apparent police brutality.

So they refuse to highlight the devastating number of innocent black women and innocent black children who get murdered by black criminals on a consistent basis.

For that reason, across America (and Canada) — police officers are significantly less likely to solve murder cases involving a black victim and an allegedly black murderer. This is why police detectives in Chicago manage to solve only 22% of murders against black Americans. 

So “missing white woman syndrome” isn’t the problem. The bigotry of low expectations for non-white people, especially black people, is the real problem.

But in a society where racism is supposedly the norm, why would the media deviate from highlighting what they think is the norm? Why would the media change their narrative? Why would the media highlight inconvenient news? 

Why would the media highlight the black faces of murdered victims when they risk highlighting the black faces of their perpetrators too? Why would they participate in something they deem racist?

That is the depressing consequence of the bigotry of low expectations. That is the consequence of critical race theory.


Originally published at Slow to Write

Samuel Sey is a Ghanaian-Canadian who lives in Brampton, a city just outside of Toronto. He is committed to addressing racial, cultural, and political issues with biblical theology, and always attempts to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

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