It is a universally recognised truth that kidnappers prefer blondes.
An odd criteria for inclusion, perhaps, but hardly surprising considering the plethora of beautiful, fair-headed girls gone missing that continue to plague our television screens and news feeds on a daily basis. When viewing such images, it soon becomes apparent that not just any young woman is qualified to be a victim. There are specific criteria that must be met before she can even plausibly be considered - being attractive and/or cute, white, middle class and photogenic are prerequisites, while doe eyes and bright red lips are sure to attract bonus points.
Hispanics, Asians, Indian and Aboriginal children are, on the other hand, safe from a kidnapper’s grasp.
While such statements may seem ludicrous to a discerning reader, one would hardly be admonished for believing them on the basis of news headlines.
The story of JonBenet Ramsay is a case in point. Thirteen years have passed since the murder of this young beauty queen, and JonBenet remains a household name - a dinner table discussion and a subject of pained entreaties that “she was such a pretty girl”. Last week alone, snapshots of a blonde head of curls, bright red lips and porcelain skin provided a picture perfect background to the headline “Police reopen JonBenet enquiry”. Thirteen years on, this six-year-old pageant star still has the ability to make news headlines.
Consider, in the very same year that JonBenet Ramsay went missing, so too did Karen Rosalba Grajeda. Karen disappeared from her home in January 1996 while playing outside the front of her apartment. Karen was seven years old. Like JonBenet, Karen’s case has never been resolved. But how many people have heard of the name Karen Rosalba Grajeda? A Google News search for JonBenet reveals over 17,500 hits. Can’t say the same for Karen.
Was JonBenet just more special? Was her case more interesting, and her role in life more important? Or did she just have a fascinating head of blonde curls and bright red lips?
After all, Karen was “only” a Hispanic.
More than 800,000 children go missing every year. Strange as it may sound, they are not all white and middle-class. They are also not all female. They are Asian, Italian, Black American, Aboriginal, Hispanic and Lebanese. They may be Christian, but could just as easily be Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist. Some have red hair. Others are brunette. Does this make them any less important? They are all children, whose deaths and disappearances remain a mystery, and whose families have been left behind.
By making such comments, I do not mean to downplay the stories of JonBenet Ramsay, Madelyn McCann, Elizabeth Smart and Caylee Anthony. The crimes that befell these girls were tragic. But what really sets them apart from the 800,000 possibilities is not their wretchedness, but rather their Hollywood-esque entertainment value. These narratives, and “narratives” are how they have been presented, were “good kidnappings” and “good murders” - tales of damsels in distress that were thus considered to be more important in terms of both investigation and headline news.
Such focus relates to a hidden hierarchy of social values that, while we hate to admit it, obviously still exists. Blaming the media is too easy. It neglects the fact that, despite being centred on making headlines, the media ultimately works for the public - it plays into audience wants and needs, providing them not with “all the news”, but with “all the news that people want to hear”. And, in a society that prides itself on being a “multicultural melting pot”, we have a long way to go before an Aboriginal, Asian or Hispanic child would be considered quite so fascinating as a little blonde beauty queen. It is all too likely that their disappearances would be passed off with a laissez-faire attitude of “it was bound to happen anyway”.
A blonde girl is merely a hotter commodity.
So arises the question: would the media and police care quite so much if JonBenet Ramsay was black? And, more to the point, would you?