The past week, the mainstream media has been dominated by the story of Malaysian Flight 370, the plane that went missing over the Indian Ocean without a trace. Every cable news outfit has had “up to date” information on the story, despite any new details really coming to light. While I’m not arguing that a missing plane isn’t newsworthy, why is there so much coverage dedicated to a lack of information? It’s almost as if the media is keeping the story on the front page artificially. It’s almost as if the attention is manufactured.
To me, the case of MH370 draws immediate comparisons to Chandra Levy and Natalee Holloway. The story sits at the top of the ticker, with no new details and no new information. The story is compulsively engrained in our collective conscious. It begs the question, is this just another case of Missing Plane Syndrome? Would anyone care if the MH370 wasn’t a plane, but instead was a woman of color?
Well, luckily, we don’t have to speculate, because a relevant case happened just a year ago. Not a single major outlet covered it, but in May of 2013, a woman named Talice Howard disappeared over Lake Ontario. She was gone without a trace. To this day, no one knows where she is.
Talice, a 35 year old administrative assistant from Toledo, started her Tuesday like any other. She was refueled at the Dunkin Donuts on I-35 by the mile 200 marker, she reported in to work, and at 12:35 she was cleared to take off for her lunch break.
“The last contact we had was at 12:45pm,” says Michael Alonzo, an African American controller at the Federal African American Administration, the government agency responsible for tracking the movements of African Americans. He points to a label on the monitor: AA175, the FAAA designation for Talice’s call sign.
“Here she is, ascending to about 30 thousand feet, at which point she reports, ‘I’m on break,’ and then the signal goes completely black,” he slumps back in his chair, “she turned off her transponder.”
All African Americans are required to keep and maintain a transponder that tracks their movements per FAAA regulation. While the transponders are checked before takeoff, it is entirely possible for the transponders to lose power or run out of minutes, in which case the only way of tracking African Americans is through visual confirmation.
“Basically, without that transponder, and if they aren’t smiling, we have no way of telling where they are,” states Alonzo. “It’s an antiquated system, but unfortunately it’s all we have.”
Efforts to update the system have been met with pushback by the industry. Air Jordan, one of the most powerful corporations in the industry, consistently lobbies to prevent Washington from imposing regulations that would require them to update the transponders in their sneakers. A call to their headquarters regarding their plans to update their tracking software for African Americans is met with denial and hostility.
“Excuse me, how did you get this number?” demanded a company rep. Soon after, they requested that I stop calling, and hung up once again.
This still doesn’t explain the media’s refusal to cover such stories. Just why is it that a missing plane on the other side of the world commands more attention than a story about a missing African American woman from the United States?
I think the answer here is clear: we live in a society that values airplanes more than it values people of color. Until we live in a world where stories like Talice’s aren’t buried, any talk of true equality and the death of racism are at best wishful thinking, and realistically, placating lip service. A combination of Bernoulli’s principle and the Coanda effect can explain how African Americans and airplanes are able to stay aloft–but what’s holding up our false belief of a post-racial society? To this reporter, it’s nothing but a bunch of hot air.