African-American women are more than two times more likely than white women to be victims of violent crime. But according to a new book from Oakland Community College Professor Cheryl Neely, there’s a huge racial disparity in how the media covers the death of those women. We talk to Neely about the book.
Black women are three times more likely than white women to be victims of homicide. But Oakland Community College Professor Cheryl Neely says when she turned on the TV or opened a newspaper, it seemed like they were rarely mentioned. Her new book, “You’re Dead--So What?” looks at how the media ignores missing and murdered black women, and the serious consequences that has for victims and their families.
Neely says the book was motivated by both her work as a sociologist as well as a deeply personal experience with the topic.
EDITED INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS
What do you think is at the root of the disparity between media coverage of black female victims and white female victims?
I think it just fits a pattern of institutional discrimination and racism that’s been a problem for centuries in this country. I think that economically, it could boil down to dollars and cents. In the literature I’ve read, that has been some of the explanation—that the people that subscribe to newspapers are largely white. So if that’s your audience, you tend to create stories or feature stories that appeal to that particular group. It could be a reflection of racial biases inherent in our social structure. Either way, it’s something that needs to change in order for victims to get the level of attention that they need.
How does the interaction between media and law enforcement impact the cases of black murder victims?
Well I actually have a chapter in my book called “An Uneasy Alliance” and it looks at the symbiotic relationship between law enforcement and media. Law enforcement did submit to interviews with me in the book and they talked about the importance of media. Media generates tips from the public and humanizes the victim and makes people empathetic, sympathetic (and) compassionate. Sometimes it motivates them to outrage where they demand more attention from law enforcement. You need both media and law enforcement at the table to bring justice for victims of violence.
What do you think needs to change to address that disparity?
I think that the media needs to pay more attention to victims of color. I think that’s very important because media is a very important resource. I think that people need to continue to put pressure on the media to give a certain level of attention to victims.