Black Girls and Women Are Missing Too. Or Didn’t You Notice.: What New TV Show Alert: Missing Persons Unit Gets Wrong

Girls for Gender Equity
5 min readApr 23, 2023

by Toni A. Wilson, Director of Culture & Narrative Shift

Fox, Getty Images.

Society believes Black girls can just disappear. People believe no one is coming to look for the Black girl. They believe Black girls are invisible. So when I tell you 300,000 women and girls are reportedly missing in America, and over a third of those missing are Black, it leaves me to continue to wonder what it will take for the media to move the needle and make some noise.

Earlier this year, a new show titled Alert: Missing Persons Unit premiered on FOX. Created by Jamie Foxx and John Eisendrath, the hit drama centers Nikki Batista, a Latina mother, and her ex-husband, who both find themselves working for the Philadelphia Missing Persons Unit (which Nikki leads) after the disappearance of their 11-year-old son. The season contains 10 episodes, each one named for the specific missing person that the episode is centered around, and each case is galvanized by the department sending out an Amber alert.

Now, while I’m not someone who indulges in copaganda television (unless it’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because I just haven’t been able to shake that one), I watched the show because my mother wanted someone to watch it along with her. In the middle of our Hulu binge of Alert, I noticed, for lack of better words, that someone was indeed missing. None of the episodes detailed any cases involving missing Black girls or women.

Black & Missing Foundation

An Epidemic In Our Own Backyards

For more than 6 hours my mother and I had sat glued to the television watching each case, investing in each missing person being given attention — from white children to white adults to an AAPI woman, but not once was a Black girl or child thought of. How could a fictional show about missing people not center nor even acknowledge the largest missing demographic in America? This is what we mean when we say Black girls can just disappear and the media doesn’t think to bat an eye.

If the narrative that we’re going missing in rapid numbers in real life isn’t being shared — and we know art imitates life — what can be said about a TV show that aims to uncover the number of women and children that go missing year over year in America, without episodes dedicated to the largest missing demographic.

The Washington Post

Black girls are ten times less likely to receive Amber alerts when they go missing. Their cases are open four times longer for investigations than their white counterparts due to racial and gender bias. Due to gender bias, transphobia, financial instability, and increased discrimination by law enforcement, trans Black girls and gender expansive youth are far vulnerable and susceptible to sex trafficking and kidnapping. There is a particular way that law enforcement interacts with missing Black people and children — they’re criminalized. Who’s going to look for someone who they believe is at fault for their own disappearance? Who’s going to look for Black children labeled runaways? No one looks for a runaway.

The media continues to grant white women and people the privilege of being priority because they’re deemed trustworthy, and if you’ve been fed media and narratives your whole life that Black people are troublemakers, liars, and worse, then no one is coming to find you because then they would have to believe you were a victim.

Missing White Woman Syndrome

Alert: Missing Persons Unit is missing white woman syndrome 101: the tendency to engage in national panic when a white woman, especially one that is conventionally attractive, goes missing. Alert is showing us week after week the great lengths people will go to find a missing white person. News anchor Gwen Ifill, noted journalist for popularizing “missing white woman syndrome,” was absolutely correct in her depiction of what it takes to get communities across America upset enough to start search parties, put up “missing” flyers, and even leave the country to join the search team if you’re someone like Natalee Holloway. But because we live in a very racial and gender-biased society, there is no ‘missing Black woman syndrome’ because a missing Black woman isn’t enough to have a country up in arms.

Missing Black women and girls are receiving less media coverage therefore less attention which means they are more likely to not be found or even known to be missing. It’s clear from the chosen victims and survivors highlighted in this show that there was a specific target audience whose voices and concerns were central to making this show a success.

Missing Black Girls Deserve More

Missing Black girls and women are more than worth our time, effort, and dedication to bring them back home to their families, friends, and communities safe. Too many Black girls go missing and their faces fade into the background. Black girls and women are not disposable. The theme of closure that keeps the show Alert going is the same closure Black families are also due and worth having.

This year Minnesota signed a bill into legislation that would create the nations first office dedicated to investigating missing Black women and girls. This office is will be tasked with reviewing missing persons and cold cases — in hopes to provide closure to families; something Alert has not deemed important in their storytelling.

When Black girls and women go missing the world keeps moving. Nothing stops, nothing stands still. Nobody comes looking for us; our stories are not run in the biggest news outlets, and they don’t make primetime news. We don’t even make the media in the form of fictional characters and television shows. We’re left to put the pieces together ourselves and bear the blame for what caused us to go missing.

Alert has of course recently been announced to have been renewed for a season 2. We can only hope that in season 2 all writers, show runners, and creators of this show can remember Black girls.

Alert got it wrong in their first season. And we’re not going to sit and wait for them to get it right in the next.

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Toni Wilson is the Director of Culture & Narrative Shift at Girls for Gender Equity. She is also a social worker, organizer, cultural critic, plus size influencer, fat liberationist and BlackFeminist from Brooklyn with roots in Jamaica. She can be found @ FatBlackLuxury.

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Girls for Gender Equity

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization centering the leadership of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth of color.