The Student News Site of Los Osos High School

The Grizzly Gazette

The Grizzly Gazette

The Grizzly Gazette

Alert! Ebony is Not the Right Word.

On October 8, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law for an additional type of Amber Alert, an “Ebony Alert” dedicated to locating missing Black youth aged 12 to 25. An amber alert is a digital alert sent to peoples’ phones to notify a child has been abducted, or kidnapped in their area. 

Senate Bill 673 states the bill would, “authorize a law enforcement agency to request the Department of the California Highway Patrol to activate an ‘Ebony Alert’, with respect to Black youth, including young women and girls, who are reported missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances, at risk, developmentally disabled, or cognitively impaired, or who have been abducted.” The alert will be notified for all Black people aged 12 to 25.

Although the law has been passed, it will not go into effect until the first of January in 2024. 

This is not the first type of amber alert used to find a specific group of people. 

There is a “Feather Alert” to signify an indigenous person has disappeared mysteriously. There is also a “Silver Alert” to notify an elderly person or an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability that has gone missing. Additionally, there is a “Blue Alert” to inform when a law enforcement person has been attacked, and the attacker has not been caught yet. 

California is the first state to sign an alert dedicated to helping recover Black youth. The demand for the law is due to the alarming rates of Black people that go missing across the nation. According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, 37 percent of kidnapping victims are Black. This is a major overrepresentation considering Black people only make up 13.6 percent of the United States’ population (United States Census). 

This disparity is because Black individuals are targeted by abductors for several reasons.

When Black people go missing, they are more likely to be disregarded as runaways by law enforcement. Therefore, media attention is prohibited and fewer resources are allocated to the missing person.  

An interview conducted by the Urban Institute, in 2016, revealed traffickers targeted Black women because they believed they would receive less jail time than if they kidnapped a White woman.

Unfortunately, this is true. This is due to the adultification of Black kids. Black kids are perceived as older and more mature than they actually are. The American Psychological Association released a study where college students had to estimate the age of Black youth. The students overestimated their ages by almost 4.5 years.

This means when abductors go to court, judges don’t see the child as innocent as they are thus rendering less empathy and less jail time for the abductor.  

Black people are often in low socioeconomic status, so their loved ones may not have the luxury to take time off of work to search for them or have money for advertisements. 

Another influencing factor, especially for sex traffickers, is the fetishization of Black people’s sex lives. 

As a Black teenage girl, I think the law is beneficial. It will raise awareness about the increasing rates of missing Black youth. However, I have one issue with the law. The word ebony. Ebony is a word used to describe a very dark, brown, or black color. It’s commonly used in pornography to objectify Black people, specifically Black women. 

The word’s origin is Greek. The initial word was “ebenos” which was the name of a tree. The tree is now referred to as an ebony tree, and it grows in Africa and Asia. They produce black and brown wood. On older pianos, the black keys were made of ebony wood, and the white keys were made of ivory, a white material made from elephant tusks and animal teeth. 

In pop culture, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, a Black, and a White man, made the song, “Ebony and Ivory”. The song was released in 1982 to encourage racial integration. The lyrics were about how well the two worked together, similar to black and white piano keys. 

The use of the word “ebony” to allude to Black people’s skin emerged from this. However, the word seems objectifying to me. It’s similar to when book authors describe a Black character’s skin tone or race, and instead of simply saying brown or black, they’ll use words like “chocolate”, “caramel”, or “coffee”. The overuse of food references objectifies black skin, comparing it to a literal object, food, like our skin is a craving a person just “has to have”. 

It feels like another word used to mystify black skin. This is why it is so rampant in pornographic content. Viewers are attracted to the “mysterious” nature of an “ebony” person. 

However, I don’t think the alert should be called the “Black Alert” either. I can not think of a replacement word, but I hope the California Senate can think of a substitute. If I saw the alert pop up on my phone, I would feel uncomfortable. 

Donate to The Grizzly Gazette

Your donation will support the student journalists of Los Osos High School. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The Grizzly Gazette