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November 13, 2003

Who Was The First American Servicewoman To Die in Iraq?

Do you know the name of the first American servicewoman to die in Iraq?

I didn't think so.

I bet you know who Jessica Lynch is, though. You've probably heard so much about her that the mere mention of her name brings on waves of vertigo.

I promise that this will be my first and last post about Jessica Lynch. Well, it really isn't about Lynch herself. It's about what type of person the media believes is worth showcasing. That person, when female, is caucasion, blonde, middle-class, and waifish. Progressive activists have criticized the way another caucasion, middle-class, waifish blonde had been used by the media -- Elizabeth Smart. Ironically, their stories are often broadcoast by equally caucasion, blonde, middle-upper class, and waifish female pundits.

Leah at Corrente has been all over the way the Bush administration, the media, and conservative groups have twisted Lynch's story to suit their own agendas. Plus there are confusing reports that give one pause regarding trusting Lynch's own believability. Lynch has already criticized the way she has been used. Her story has been staged, misrepresented, and promoted not in in a manner respectful of her, but as a way to promote patriotism during war. In addition to promoting Bush's war, Kate O'Beirne and Laura Ingraham, both of the anti-feminist and conservative Independent Women's Forum, used the "women in the military" issue in yet another pot-shot against feminism. Sometimes I think that anti-feminism consists only of attacking any aspect of real feminism, rather than work towards improving women's lives.

While these white, blonde, middle-class women and girls get all the media attention, both negative and positive, other women and girls are ignored.

So... Do you know the name of the first American servicewoman to die in Iraq?

You don't, do you?

Her name was Lori Piestewa.

Lori Piestewa was not a waifish blonde. She was a Hopi who lived on the Hopi reservation in Arizona with her parents after her divorce. She is survived by two children.

Shoshana Johnson is slated to receive only a 30% disability benefit, compared to the 80% slated for Lynch. Johnson was shot in both legs, and she was the first African-American female prisoner of war.

All three of these women were in the same unit.

Everyone has heard of Elizabeth Smart, Samantha Runnion, and Danielle Van Dam. All three are or were caucasion, waifish, and blonde.

Can you name one missing African-American child?

Comic book writer and activist Alonzo Washington has forced the media to pay more attention to missing African American children like precious Doe, Rilya Wilson, Alexis Patterson, Jahi Turner, Shakira Johnson, Teeka Lewis, and Shelby Cannon. According to an ABC news report, "Tionda and Diamond Bradley, ages 10 and 3, have not been seen since July 6, 2001, when their mother went to work, and police have few new leads. The disappearance of 2-year-old Jahi Turner has baffled San Diego police since April 2002. And in Milwaukee, Alexis Patterson has not been seen since she disappeared while on her way to school last May."

These children and women do not attract the same level of media and public attention because they are not white, blonde, and middle class. They deserve our attention and concern as much as the Jessica Lynches and Elizabeth Smarts out there. It is a tragedy when any woman or child dies under these circumstances, but it is not right for the media and the public to decide that some women's and children's stories are worth more than others. Racial and class bias of this sort must stop.

Posted on November 13, 2003 at 07:02 PM | Permalink


in a similar vein... I seem to recall reading that another woman went missing from the same town at the same time as Laci Peterson (sp?), but because she was a troubled single mother with a history of drug abuse, it received little police attention and even less coverage.

Can't google my way to confirmation, though... my skills have let me down.

Posted by: Ab_Normal at Nov 14, 2003 6:34:27 PM

I knew about Piestewa because of the monument now named in her honor, which I thought was a terrific tribute as well as a very fitting way to get rid of its original name (the offensive "Squaw Peak").

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at Nov 15, 2003 10:20:34 PM

Thanks for your words and everything you wrote is so true. I am a Native American woman and you hit it right on-everything I wanted to say. In my blog I quoted another guy who thinks that
Piestewa Peak should be changed back to Squaw Peak. I went off on that one needless to say it suprises me at how some people can truly think that minorities don't deserve a thing

Posted by: J-Me at Jan 26, 2004 1:25:04 PM

I love what Alfonso is doing for Alexis Patterson, Tionda Bradley, Rilya Wilson and Jahi Turner. The entire nations knows that the media only blasted missing kids if the child is white ENOUGH. Leanne Warner is a white child but have you ever heard of her? She isn't white ENOUGH. Elizabeth Smart, Danielle Van Dam, Samantha Runnion, Jonbenet Ramsey are all BLOND haired. My site is dedicated to missing and murdered black kids, but I think I'm going to add dark haired white kids, the kids that are white but not white ENOUGH.

Posted by: Keke at Jul 20, 2004 5:13:33 AM