Is it time to stop obsessing over MadELeINE?

Why the Madeleine McCann case epitomises a narrative of white privilege


By El Barnes


The Madeleine McCann case is the most notorious missing person’s case in history.

Almost twelve years later, Operation Grange has received a total of £11.75m of government funding, the most recent instalment having been granted in October 2018. But with 1 in 200 children going missing each year in the UK alone, is it time to finally stop obsessing over Madeleine McCann?

Before continuing, it must be addressed that this is a devastating case which has at the heart of it a beautiful and innocent little girl who, no matter which theory you choose to believe, has been met with an exceedingly tragic fate. I do find it interesting, though, that the only other case involving a child that has had an international audience just as captivated is the 1996 murder of JonBenét Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado. The most significant point of contrast between the two is that JonBenét’s ordeal culminated with the discovery of a body, but the similarities don’t start and end with public reception.

Like Madeleine, JonBenét was thought of as something of a juxtaposition between prized possession and least favourite child. Like Madeleine, JonBenét suffered the most horrific fate with her – apparently oblivious – family close by. JonBenét’s brother, like Madeleine’s siblings, was completely unaware and came out unscathed. As with Madeleine’s case, evidence arose after the fact that pointed towards some kind of familial involvement. Like Madeleine, JonBenét was a white middle-class child, born to wealthy and respected parents. Like Madeleine, JonBenét was innocence personified – a young child with fair hair, fair skin and coloured eyes.

According to the charity Missing People, someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK.

That means that since Madeleine’s disappearance over 4.2m others have been reported missing, the majority of these being children, which begs the question: why Madeleine? It seems crass to suggest that an innocent and ill-fated child should become an unfortunate symbol of white privilege, but the sad truth is that when a person of colour and/or an immigrant or refugee goes missing, the media is far less likely to pay attention. A scroll through the current list of missing persons in the UK will reveal a glaring and cruel reality: people of colour make up a significant majority of missing persons, despite the population of the UK being 86% white.

What really saddens me about this is that I couldn’t name a single person of colour on this page; the only missing persons’ cases I’ve seen media coverage of recently are that of 16-year-old Liam Smith from Aberdeen, 21-year-old Libby Squire from Hull and 19-year-old Daniel Williams from Reading. The common denominator? The victims whose faces the media has chosen to circulate are all white.

I’m not suggesting that these three people received the media attention they deserved, or anywhere near as much as Madeleine.

I’m not even suggesting that Madeleine has received more than she deserves; I firmly believe that everything should be done to uncover the circumstances of her disappearance and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice. She, as a child, and an innocent victim, deserves that much. But if the government is incapable of providing such extensive and sustained funding, and the media incapable of giving such extensive and sustained air-time, to every child that goes missing, then it shouldn’t be provided to one in particular. After all, it’s not just Madeleine whose image conjures up reminders of the perpetuation of white privilege – it’s her parents, too.

All too often Madeleine herself becomes lost in the earth-shattering reverberations of the tempestuous see-saw that is the public opinion of Kate and Gerry McCann and no matter which side of the see-saw you are on, you are sure to have an opinion. You are sure to believe that they are victims of unimaginable tragedy or evil perpetrators of a heinous crime. You are sure to know their faces. You most likely know that in just the first 10 months following Madeleine’s disappearance, the public donated £2m to the McCanns. Picture Madeleine, and you inevitably picture Kate and Gerry along with her; their names and faces and numerous details of their lives…and yet so many names of actual missing people in the UK draw a blank.

But instead of contributing to an endless media circus and becoming another extension of the problem, let’s talk about the missing people of colour in the UK and remind them, wherever they are, and their families, that we haven’t forgotten them.

Recent photos can be found at, where you can also report sightings.

Let’s find 16-year-old Ismael Berkoun, missing from Westminster since March 13th.

15-year-old Iesha Manuk Welsh, missing from Lambeth since March 13th.

14-year-old Rhys Moore-Campbell, missing from Camden since March 7th.

15-year-old Tamara Oram, missing from Walthamstow since March 4th.

17-year-old Tung Nguyen, missing from Luton since February 18th.

16-year-old Haftom Manush, missing from Birmingham since February 10th.

16-year-old Amy Mendes, missing from Croydon since January 22nd.

Let’s circulate their names and faces and keep them in our thoughts as much as we have kept Madeleine there for the past twelve years and let’s hope, just as fervently, that they too will be found.

Words by
El Barnes

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