Gabby Petito — Does Our Culture Care if Black or Brown Women Disappear?

Media and Race

Jonathan Bateman
5 min readSep 24, 2021


Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

At this early point in time I still remember the feeling when I first learned of Gabby Petito’s disappearance. What I don’t remember is the exact source though I know it was not a friend who told me. Was I watching live news or was it recommended to me on social media? I can’t recall. What I can recall is the thought, “Holy s**t”, followed by working through all of the possibilities of what could have happened. Is she still alive? Did her boyfriend, Brian, do it? She has instagram? How many followers does she have? By the time I got to her instagram profile some friends of mine were already following her.

I wasn’t the only one intrigued by this story. Interest in Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie was reaching a fever pitch as you can see in the Google Trends in the screen shot below. My mind started jumping to the closest thing to a True Crime show I consume, “Truth Be Told”. Get Octavia Spencer on the line! We need her!

There was something so compelling about the fact that we didn’t know if she was still alive but that we knew she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. Add to this real-time drama a YouTube vlog series starring a happy couple and the, now silent, boyfriend with a lawyer and you have our collective investment.

Screenshot from Google Analytics

To anyone passing by it is understandable why we are compelled by this story. This is happening now, it involves the very contemporary issue of the disconnection between social media with reality, and we are for the most part stuck at home. But, Gabby Petito is not the first woman to go missing. This begs the question of how this story caught on in the media so rapidly and also the question of how much our interactions with media dictate media’s output.

In 2020, according to the National Crime Information Center 268,884 women and girls were reported missing. Of that, 159,029 (59%) of them were white (which includes Hispanic women in this data) and 90,333 (34%) were black. In a CBS news report by Vladimir Duthiers they make the point that since only 13.4% of the population is black there is a…