The following is a letter written to the editor of the New York Times, regarding a photograph that the paper used to accompany a story about the Virginia Tech massacre and its aftermath. The Times chose not to run the letter, but it has now been published, along with many others, in the latest edition of Rejected Letters to the Editor (another publication of our parent company, The Flea Circus Publishing Empire).
To the Editor:
The front cover photo selection accompanying the announcement of the identity of Cho Seung-Hui as the Virginia Tech gunman is rather conspicuous. Though there is no indication that Mr. Cho’s killings were racially motivated, the portrayal of three young Asian women mourning amongst thousands of other students makes an unavoidable statement about race. I find it hard to believe that if a white (or African-American or Hispanic or Arab) man (or woman) were to have been identified as the shooter that this same photo would have appeared.
Even if the intent of this photograph is to make an editorial statement about Mr. Cho acting alone, portraying how other Asian-Americans in the community are not like him, and are as distraught over this tragedy as everyone else, it still inextricably links him and these women as members of a distinct racial group. It endorses a visual stereotype of racial differences, even as it presumably attempts to downplay anxieties about the role of race in the crime.
New York City
April 18, 2007