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Keywords:

  • African Americans;
  • blacks;
  • celebrity;
  • serial killers;
  • serial murders

Abstract

‘Can you name an African American (black) serial killer?’ In the US, the answer is often silence. For those who can remember, it might be Wayne Williams, the so-called ‘Atlanta child murderer’. More astute individuals could mention the more recent D.C. Snipers who, while not comparable to the traditional media portrayals of serial killers, do qualify as such, based on the FBI's assessment. The existence of African American serial killers is a fact that appears to have escaped the attention of the American public. Previous research has identified 90 black serial killers beginning in 1945, yet their notoriety and celebrity are absent from America's popular cultural landscape. Despite the fact that numerous television shows, news reports and films address serial murder in fictional and non-fictional portrayals, there remains a dearth of information and portrayals regarding black serial killers. This is an interesting conundrum. The media show little reticence in portraying black males as low-level criminals, but rarely portray them as serial killers. This article suggests that the unquestioned ethnocentric profile of the serial killer as a white male in the US was created by the FBI, and subsequent media portrayals have reinforced this myth. Consequently, the predominant media portrayals of serial murderers are white male perpetrators. The impact of race-based assumptions among law enforcement agencies and the public regarding the criminality of any group poses a danger to that whole society.