Is It Because They’re Not White?

Avatar of Simone Faulkner

Two-year-old Arianna Fitts disappeared on April 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. Just before this, her mother, Nikki Fitts, was found dead by a gardener in McLaren Park in San Francisco. Arianna was described as an energetic, bubbly, and curious toddler by her aunt, who has not stopped looking for her since the day she disappeared. It has been almost six years since Arianna went missing. She is now eight years old and still hasn’t been found. This is in part because of the lack of resources put towards finding her. Unlike many other disappearances, there has been no national outcry or obsession, no amateur internet detectives trying to solve her case, no enthralled followers or investigation. Many have asked the question of whether the color of Arianna’s skin has anything to do with her case remaining unsolved and unknown. Is it because she’s Black?

This is entirely the opposite of the recent Gabby Petito case, which garnered massive national attention and outrage. Gabby Petito was killed while on a cross-country roadtrip with her boyfriend, sparking a broadcasted investigation and countless conspiracy theories. Gabby’s case was aired on just about every news and social media platform from the moment she went missing until her body was found. Gabby Petito became a household name, while Arianna Fitts did not.

It’s through no fault of her own that Gabby’s case was solved so soon, or that she received so much attention and sympathy. It’s what’s called “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” Simply put, the public cares more about a missing white woman than a person of color. Often, once a person of color is reported missing, the police label them as a runaway and forget to look for them. Furthermore, when a person of color disappears or is killed, the world somehow gathers that they deserved it and labels them a criminal. When a white person goes missing, no one jumps to rationalize their misfortune by finding every bad thing they’ve ever done. People of color are being criminalized, in the sense that their existence is being seen as illegal. People don’t care about “criminals” as much as they do innocent white women.

When people of color are murdered or go missing, they don’t become household names like Gabby Petito, Natalee Holloway, or JonBenét Ramsy. You won’t see their faces on the sides of milk cartons, read their stories in the news, or hear their names, and you surely won’t hear about them being found, safe and sound, because recovery seems impossible with all of the odds stacked against them. But there are many Black and Brown people that deserved the same awareness as these girls, and would have earned it if they had been white. Maybe they could have even been saved.

Because missing people of color don’t receive the attention they deserve and the police don’t exercise the full extent of their resources to find them, their families are the only ones looking for them and maintaining faith that they will be found. They can’t ever forget about them, even though everyone else has. Arianna Fitts’ aunt has not stopped looking for her since she disappeared; she believes with all her heart that Arianna is alive. Everyday, she waits for when she will reunite with Arianna.