The Whiteness of Remembrance:

Tim Bosma, Rehataeh Parsons, and Jane Creba

By Jorge Antonio Vallejos

“They’re looking for that white guy who’s disappeared but the 800 Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women in Canada don’t matter,” said my friend  Stefoknee while we were hanging out this weekend.

It was an important and honest comment.

It’s true that Tim Bosma, a white man from Ontario, Canada, is all over the news. Rightfully so.  He’s missing.  Everyone who has been murdered or goes missing should be given media attention.

But it doesn’t work out that way.

North American media has a history of highlighting missing and murdered white people, women in particular.  In terms of women going missing some call it Missing White Woman Syndrome.  The recent case of three women–Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight–held captive in a basement in Cleveland, Ohio is a perfect example.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote 36 articles about Amanda Berry, a white woman, and 19 about Gina DeJesus, a Latina woman of colour, during the 10 years that they were missing.

That’s almost double the coverage given to a white woman.

Not surprising.

We don’t have to look far to see the same thing happening on the stolen land now known as Canada.  Recently, the media was saturated with news about the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, a young white woman who was gang raped and decided to end her life after much humiliation by her rapists and her community.

We live in a culture of rape.

Parsons became a national tragedy.  What happened to her was sad, wrong, and horrible. Her rapists should be punished.  Her case should be shared and learned from.  And rape culture has to be acknowledged, exposed, talked about, and challenged.

But no one was questioning why the Parsons case was given so much attention. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are gang raped every year in Canada.  Why did Parsons case become a national story?

Parsons was white, young, pretty, and middle class.

Parsons became Canada’s new national tragedy.

Parsons became the new Jane Creba.

December 26, 2005 saw Jane Creba, a young white woman, lose her life to a stray bullet on Yonge Street in the middle of the day during Canada’s busiest business day: Boxing Day.  It became known as the Boxing Day Shooting and Creba became Canada’s national tragedy.

The then Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, marched up and down Yonge Street demanding an end to violence.  He never marched around Cherry Beach where many sexworkers have been killed and dumped.  He never walked with activists protesting the murders and disappearances of what is now 800+ Aboriginal women.  He never spoke to the media about the countless women of colour who have been killed in the city he ran for years.


Canada cares about young, white, pretty, middle and upper class women.

White men run everything so of course Tim Bosma is a priority in the media at the moment.

Apart from the 800+ Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women, proof enough that the media cares about white folk more than anyone, I’ll give a few examples of women drowned out by the white woman syndrome practiced by media.

Chantel Dunne

A year after Jane Creba was killed by a stray bullet 19 year old Black woman Chantel Dunn was also killed by a stray bullet in Toronto (2006).  Dunn was a second year student at York University and was shot while sitting in a car.  Her killer has not been found.

Have you heard of Chantel Dunne?  Did Dunne get the same media attention as Jane Creba?  Did she become Canada’s national tragedy?

Stephine Beck

Whiteness is not only about skin it’s about class and privilege.  Not all white folk are middle or upper class, and not all white folk have the same privileges (other than skin privilege, of course) as middle and upper class white folk.  Stephine Beck was a white sex worker who was murdered by Wayne Ryczak in 2007.

Ryczak was given 1 day in jail for killing Beck.

One day!

Why? Wayne Ryczak is straight, white, makes $75 000 a year, and belongs to a Christian church.  He matters.  Sexworkers don’t matter in this society.  Stephine Beck, a sexworker, did not matter.

Have you heard of Stephine Beck?  Did Beck get large amounts of media attention?  Did Beck become Canada’s national tragedy?

Bridget Takyi

Bridget Takyi was a 27 year old mother of two boys brutally killed by her ex partner in Toronto, January 2013.  She was on her way to work when Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah stabbed her several times and burned her body leaving it unrecognizable.

Have you heard of Bridget Takyi?  Did Takyi get large amounts of media attention?  Did Takyi become Canada’s national tragedy?

There is a whiteness of remembrance in media and society that has to be challenged.

Aboriginal women and women of colour are affected by violence at higher levels than white women.  Aboriginal women and women of colour matter.  Aboriginal women and women of colour deserve the same media attention as white women.  Aboriginal women and women of colour are people too.

Below is a poem, Shane It Isn’t Fair, I wrote in 2008 about this topic.  It was published in the 2009 YU Free Press Feminist Issue:


About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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  1. Agreed. We live in a rape culture.

    People have a much easier time swallowing good and evil definitions in clear cut forms they can understand. “Only black and white, please. No grey information to confuse me.” Though, people with smudgy grey circumstances happen to be the perfect victims. They are accessible. They are not missed, believed, or deemed “enough like me to cause me to fear my own future and safety if I don’t march to the cause”. And society’s views of who’s “in” make the media seek out model-type victims for their stories.

    The beautiful Indian student murdered during a bus gang rape was their token victim by which to spark outrage. Whiteness does play a part, as do other factors which were mentioned such as social standing (money, power, education). Even the black rescuer of the three kidnapped women was strangely marginalized with jokes in the media. But although whiteness is a factor, it may be not just whiteness but the perception of the social standing which happens to be the social reality of a non-white group.

    The murdered native women case is just horrendous, but as was mentioned with missing white sex-trade workers there are unfair perceptions around certain people’s lifestyles which albeit wrongly cloud the issue. Missing sex trade workers would be perceived as drugged, unstable, living at great risk, and with inconsistent patterns on which to base they were the object of a crime and missing. Truth is, they are probably more the victims of crime than the person who is expected home at 6pm after band practice.

    Perhaps the young native population who hitchhikes from the outlying reserves out of necessity with a confidence and frequency which city-goers are not used to gives a similar misperception. That does not mean their families don’t know when to expect them home or aren’t aware of their habits, movements, and trustworthiness.

    It’s other cultures which have a difficult time relating to a different lifestyle and extracting the relevant information, not to say that certain lifestyles are in fact by choice. People cited New Orleans as race discrimination, whereas it is more likely based on social standing (including crime) which did happen to belong to a mostly black population exactly because they inherited grave social problems from the legacy of racial mistreatment, injustice, suppression, and slavery.

    Great article! It hits many excellent points.

  2. Reb Krav says:

    Thank you!

  3. Tim says:

    I was thinking this as I observed so much national media coverage of Tim Bosma, and I recall thinking the same thing about the coverage of Jane Creba. I am geographically closer to the Rehthaeh Parsons case, so presumed the extensive coverage I witnessed was because it was a more of a local story to me. I mean no disrespect to these people, but I couldn’t help but wonder if their stories received such attention, compared to others, because they were white people. As a gay, white male who can pass as straight, I have come to recognize the power and privilege bestowed upon straight, white men in our culture because my privilege shifts depending on if I am perceived as straight or gay. I can only imagine how my privilege would change were I able to appear not white or not male.

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