Why Did It Take 2 Weeks For The US To Hear About The 200+ Missing Nigerian Girls?

In the early morning hours of April 14th, a group of armed militants raided the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, a town in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The militants kidnapped more than 200 school-aged girls who were waiting to take their exams.

As Time magazine reports, it wasn’t until May 1st, a full two weeks later, that word of the mass kidnappings made the US nightly news.

The US news cycle runs around the clock, and it’s often the most grisly, disturbing, and impactful stories that dominate the coverage. As more reports are released about the missing girls, the devastating reality of the situation is, if nothing else, worthy of making the news.

As of right now, 276 are reportedly still missing after being abducted by members of the Boko Haram extremist group, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is sin” or “Western education is forbidden.” According to sources, the girls are now being forced to “marry” their Boko Haram captors, while some are being trafficked into neighboring countries.

+ Read ’13 Things You Need To Know About The Missing Nigerian Girls.’

Kidnappings, young girls, forced marriage, child trafficking. All these ingredients combine to make a compelling and explosive news story, but still questions remain: Why did the United States media wait so long to cover it? And why is coverage still greatly lacking?

If you were asked to come up with the name of a young, pretty white girl who went missing, how many could you call to mind? Would you land on Elizabeth Smart? What about Hannah Anderson? Their stories dominated news cycles almost immediately after the kidnappings. You might even be able to recall information about their cases even though they’ve long-since been resolved.

What makes the teenagers missing in Nigeria different? Are their stories less important because they weren’t living in small-town USA? Or does it instead come down to the color of their skin?

In an exclusive interview, media critic and writer Soraya Chemaly said she cannot “separate racial and gender bias” in this case. She explains that, in our country, “Missing White Woman syndrome” is  “a very real thing.” How many stories have gone under-reported or completely ignored because the individual or individuals involved were not white women? According to Chemaly, “the lives and bodies of dark women are worth less in our culture, and US media dominates global media.”

Even now that more outlets are picking up the story, the coverage remains “profoundly problematic.” For example, Chemaly explains that using words like “child brides” in lieu of “kidnapped, sold and raped girls” is “counterproductive.” Because people “do not want to be too disturbed by ugly realities. … We see euphemisms that mask the horror of what is happening.”

When asked why our media outlets obsessed over missing flight MH370, Chemaly notes that missing airplanes are something “everyone can rationalize.” As a country, we have a much harder time rationalizing the kidnapping and trafficking of teenage girls whose only crime was pursuing an education.

Now that this media coverage is being illuminated, what does it mean for the fate of the missing girls? Secretary of State John Kerry pledged the United States’ support over the weekend, expressing that our country would do “everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.”

This is just one tragic example of the bias all around us. To learn more about bias and its effects, check out MTV’s recently launched Look Different campaign.

Photo: (Getty)

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Petition Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, and tell him to Bring Back Nigeria's 200 Missing School Girls. #BringBackOurGirls