WASHINGTON ― There was barely any standing room left at a recent town hall meeting on the unacceptable number of missing black and Latinx teenagers in the nation’s capital.
The March 22 gathering was tense. Local D.C. police attempted to answer questions from the predominantly black residents of Ward 8. Residents shared a range of stories about family members who had run away, who had been abducted and returned home safely, and who had never come home at all. The police chief was there.
But photos of the event, circulated later on social media, revealed a disturbing truth: Few, if any, white people showed up for the meeting.
The lack of white faces at an event about missing girls of color provokes a familiar sense of outrage. White people don’t turn out for protests condemning police violence, calling for a living wage or pushing for immigrant rights at the same rates as black and Latinx folks.
White feminists, in particular, have been criticized for their tendency not to show up for issues pertaining to women of color. Signs from the Women’s March on Washington, a large-scale movement to protest the policy stances of President Donald Trump, targeted these women, asking them if they would be attending the next Black Lives Matter protest and reminding us all who helped put Trump in office.
It’s not as though the issue doesn’t affect everyone. Children of all races go missing. But black and Latinx kids are less likely to return home, more likely to be written off as runaways, and often don’t get as much media attention when foul play is suspected.
The minimal white attendance at the town hall highlights the hypocrisy of the All Lives Matter crowd. That phrase, constructed to both mirror and contradict Black Lives Matter, supposedly advocates for the lives of all people by cautioning against focusing on one demographic. The same criticism applies to Blue Lives Matter folks, who attack the Black Lives Matter movement any time a person of color commits an act of anti-police violence. When white people kill police, they usually have nothing to say.
In reality, All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are racist attempts to distract from the black-led push against police violence. If the people crying those slogans cared about each life, as they proclaim, they would be fighting to save black and Latinx kids, too.
The missing white people at last week’s meeting also highlighted the terrible power of residential segregation. Washington remains one of the country’s most segregated cities. The town hall was held at a school convenient for many worried black residents and completely off the radar for most white residents ― because everybody knew who wasn’t coming anyway.
They probably won’t show up until white children go missing en masse.