Missing white women and Sam Little’s legacy

Those of us who read the news in this country are fixated, to some extent or another, on the death by homicide of Gabriel Petito and the search (as of this writing) for her “fiance” Brian Laundrie who, we are being led to believe, knows “something” about her death and after refusing to talk about it, has now disappeared.

These people are/were white. She was very white: blonde, pale-skinned, “all-American looking”, adventurous and in love with another good-looking white kid. She checked the social check-boxes for every single criteria making her a “white girl”.

Joy Reid doesn’t check those boxes. In fact, the brilliant news commentator whose ability to conjure up researched fact mixed with a quick wit and sharp interviewing style has made her an early-evening cable news super star, specializes in trashing the racist stereo-types that frame the check-boxes . If there is something racist going on, Joy Reid will publicly and unabashedly kick its butt.

Which is what happened this past week with Gabby Petito (and we’re getting to Samuel Little).

In mentioning Gabby’s case on her show, Reid acknowledged that everyone wants justice for her and her family and to learn the truth. Then came the dive bombers as she pointed out the scores, hundreds in fact, of black, latin, asian and indigenous women who have gone missing since 2015 that nobody, and I mean that literally, is looking for.

She just stated the fact and left the implications to us although she did underscore the racism involved in that attention gap. I’m grabbing this baton to say that the white men who run news organizations in this country (and that *is* who runs the news organizations) don’t care about women of color dying. In fact, based on the guys I know who fit that bill, I would argue that they think premature death is what these women are bound for and that it’s irrevocable. That is, when they think about it at all.

The New York Times, which has been as egregious as everyone else on this story, made a statement through its own press office indicating that it covered the Petito case because readers’ interest in it was so strong. The paper, to its credit, then ran a piece supportively covering the public debate on “missing white woman” syndrome with statistics on coverage and quoted its own dumb statement of defense. Obviously, if that’s what you cover, that’s what readers are going to read. That’s how they became “interested” in the case in the first place? Duh doy!!!

I’ve worked in professional newsrooms and daily newspapers and can assure you that white reporters are afflicted by the same racism that afflicts us all. Only thing is, they write what we read and frame how we think.

Which brings us to Samuel Little.

This week, authorities in Jackson County, Mississippi identified remains found forty-four years ago as Clara Birdlong, who police suspect of being a victim of serial killer Samuel Little. Yeah…you read that right…they had her body (or its remains) for 44 years and have only now identified her through a combination of dna and interviews with relatives.

Okay…just a bit of background. Samuel Little was a guy whose hobby, it seems, was killing women. Before his own death last year, he claimed to have killed 93 of them over three decades as he drove around the country, staying in different places, working different jobs and killing women when the occasion presented itself. For the most part, these women were what law-enforcement calls “at risk” — people struggling with an addiction, without a home, working in dangerous professions (like street prostitution) and, using his enormous strength, he usually strangled them with one hand as he was masturbating with the other. He called this “having sex with my babies”.

For enlightenment, and a guarantee of sleepless nights, do an on-line search for the videos of his confessions. I don’t believe in evil. But Sam Little is as close to evil as any human being I have ever heard or read about. With enthusiasm, clarity and incredible fact-retention, Little describes how he met specific victims, where he took then and how he killed them. The killing part he describes in the shortest detail “There was a ditch there…about four feet down off the road. I threw her body there after I strangled her.” But he remembers and cherishes every detail from what they were wearing to hair-style to the way they talked.

In case you’re wondering, Little never ever expressed remorse for any of his actions or any real compassion for his victims. He sometimes described them as “nice girls” and in one case said “she was real nice. I really loved her.” after describing how he strangled her and left her body in some bushes.

I’ve written elsewhere that Little is a continuum of male culture in this society. Men, at least when we’re younger than I am and are hetero-sexual, always have sex in part of our minds when we meet an “attractive woman” — a concept hatched by sexist culture. How much of our minds determines how sexist we are and, in inverse relationship, how successful we turn out in building real human relationships. But that push to have sex is always there.

In this sexist society, the culture of mating is, initially at least, about manipulation. Can you “attract” the other person? What does it “take” to get past their barriers? To be clear, this is not the predominant force in all of us — we’re not all creeps. It was never the predominant force in many interactions with women, for example, but it was always there. That’s what makes this a sexist society and no man can escape its self-protective culture clutches.

Little is the extension of that to gruesome extremes (to which almost none of us go) but to call him a “monster” is to ignore the cultural continuum that is the thread of all society. A horror story like Little is impossible without those urges that afflict us all. It’s all about using other human beings who are women.

The searing question however is: why did Little select the victims he did, mainly “at risk” women he met in bars or on the street and how in the world did he get away with it for so very long? Those questions have the very same answer: as a society, we don’t care about black women.

Little himself makes clear that he rode the streets of black areas of every town and city he visited looking for this particular type of woman. Why? Because, he says, nobody was going to care that she disappeared.

Little’s drawings of some of his victims

In his confessions, Little careful laid out details of all his killings and even sketched 26 of his victims (he was a talented line artist). After all those confessions and all that information very very few of his crimes were even investigated. Why? Little explains it clearly to journalist Jillian Lauren:

“I never killed no senators or governors or fancy New York journalists. Nothing like that. I killed you (ed: meaning Lauren), it’d be all over the news the next day. I stayed in the ghettos.”

Which was Joy Reid’s point. There is a reality that is separate from the mainstream picture thrust on us by our media: there is, in fact, a ghetto and its residents are real and the women in that ghetto live real lives and sometimes, maybe more than women anyplace else in this country, they are murdered. And, like Sam Little’s victims, they are ignored and forgotten.

Here’s a fun final fact. Already, the predictable cultural goons in our media are complaining that we have politicized Gabby story or “touch on the tired racist thing”.

Are you sick of hearing about racism? Do you think we bring it up in almost every discussion?

Well you should be sick of it because we certainly are and while we don’t bring it up in every discussion, we probably should. Because it’s part of every aspect of our culture. As is sexism. And, as is often the case (and often over-looked), here’s an example of racism and sexism being linked and showing themselves as the same thing: the dismissal and discarding of some people as one way society ensures its continued status quo.

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