Why we should all care about the missing Nigerian school girls

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In the most recent episode of “Where’s the Outrage When Horrible Things Happen to Black Girls,” more than 200 school girls were reportedly kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School, a boarding school in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok.

This happened nearly two weeks ago, which equates to light years in journalism. Why is the mainstream press just reporting on this event?

The kidnapping has been attributed to the radical Islamist group Boko Haram by witnesses to the abduction and by journalists. For those who aren’t familiar with Boko Haram, they have been bombing the hell out of Christian schools and buildings and wielding terror across the African continent since the early 2000s.

Their group’s primary goal is to create a “pure” Muslim state ruled by Sharia law and to end “Westernization” in the process. Their campaign of terror has resulted in the murder of thousands and displacement of tens of thousands to countries throughout the continent. The group has been in existence for over a decade but has ramped up its campaign to impose Islam in the last two years with high-profile acts of violence, the latest of which is the alleged kidnapping of these school girls. When did this happen? Nearly two weeks ago — and this story is just beginning to be reported by mainstream media outlets in the West.

Following the kidnapping, it was initially reported that approximately 40 of the girls escaped the kidnapping and returned home. Wednesday, Turaki A. Hassan, Ibrahim Kabiru Sule and Ronald Mutum of the Daily Trust reported that most of the 234 Borno schoolgirls in Boko Haram captivity have been ferried abroad to Chad and Cameroon after they were married off to sect members for N2,000 bride price each — the equivalent of $12.43 American dollars.

This is not surprising coming from a group that opposes the education of girls and has kidnapped girls in the past to use as cooks and sex slaves.

What is surprising is the lack of outrage from communities in the United States and United Kingdom, not to mention the lack of coverage in the Western media until now. I know Americans have been obsessed with the Don Sterling racist rant saga and other celebrity foolishness, but come on.

Can you imagine a group of “rebels” showing up at an all-girls boarding school in Northern Virginia, dragging 234 school girls on a bus at gunpoint, selling most of them into slavery for $12.43 each — and not hearing a peep about it from U.S. pundits, Congressional members, news outlets, bloggers and the like? It is 2014, not 1814.

Why are we only up in arms over the horrible shooting of three people at a Jewish Center in Kansas by a homegrown, government witness-protected KKK member but quiet as church mice when it comes to black school girls being abducted and sold into sexual slavery in Nigeria? The shooting was horrible, but this tragedy isn’t?

While folks are breaking up over the government’s handling or mishandling of Russia’s occupation of the Crimea region of the Ukraine with calls to invade Russia, a nuclear superpower, no one has asked our government  to intervene in what is increasingly a situation that seems to be beyond the control of the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments.  Why hasn’t our government, which seems to involve itself in many international incidents it probably shouldn’t, involved itself in this one?

Now that the girls have been sold, the Western media is up in arms. Where were the Western media and governments when the girls were kidnapped two weeks ago?

The answer is clear. The lives of black girls don’t matter until dominant institutions say so, which is why media coverage of terrorist acts like this are critical. Perhaps these girls might have stood a chance had someone intervened on their behalf, especially when dealing with a government that is too proud to admit that they don’t have control over their homegrown terrorists.  I suppose if it doesn’t involve oil in Nigeria, then it doesn’t matter. Luckily, Nigerian women are staging a Million Woman March to raise awareness about the issue.

I guess we’ll continue to get pissed off about things like who’s been invited to speak at a graduation ceremony or racist ramblings from a de facto racist billionaire instead of using media platforms to shed light on stories that should matter.

A story like this should never go underreported, because when it does, things go from bad (kidnapped at gunpoint from school two weeks ago) to worse (sold into sexual slavery for $12). What’s with all of the newfound interest? The lives of most of these black school girls which mattered then (two weeks ago) are over now.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is the founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire.  She is a media scholar and examines the intersection of race, class, gender and sexuality in legacy and new media.