Addressing concerns about our November cover.
*** Several readers have objected to the cover image. Below is the December Editor's Note, which addresses those concerns. It will also appear in the December print edition. ***
As the magazine staff prepared to send this issue to the printer in early November, history was made with the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States. By itself, that one accomplishment may not end racism, as others have noted, but it’s pretty convincing evidence that this country has come a long way since the 1960s.
Unfortunately, the United States has miles to go before we put aside all prejudice—and suspicions of prejudice—that color our perceptions of each other. I see this in the reaction some readers had to last month’s cover. It illustrated a story on gang witness intimidation by showing two menacing men with guns; the man in the foreground was Hispanic, the other man was African-American.
Several readers expressed great offense at this portrayal. One said it was “stereotyping of thugs to be black men,” and that “our choice was poor because most black men are not thugs.” Another said that there should not have been “any picture of any nationality because crime and evil has no race.” (See their full statements in the forthcoming December “Letters,” page 131.)
The implication is that one should only portray people in a positive light—because any picture of any person of any race doing anything wrong is offensive and slanders that person’s entire race or ethnic group.
I don’t accept that premise. I think our readers are more intelligent than that. The election of Barack Obama shows that the country as a whole is smarter than that.
I understand the sensitivity to stereotyping, and the magazine should be criticized if it repeatedly shows any minority group negatively. That is not the case. Some recent covers: March had a crazed white man with a gun poised to shoot up an office; April had an Asian student circled as a campus killer; May had a white man stealing a computer; and June had a white man with a gun about to wreak havoc in an ER.
So, yes, in November, with a story about gangs intimidating witnesses, where statistics show that 47 percent of gang members are Hispanic and 35 percent are African-American, we chose to have our story illustrated with one person from each of those groups. Having this illustration no more smears the millions of law abiding and successful African-Americans and Hispanics than our other covers malign whites and Asians. It sells readers short to assume that they can’t make the distinction between an illustration of one story and a universal statement.
Let’s celebrate the election of President Obama, who shows us an African-American face that embodies the best of human achievement. But let’s also not shrink from showing that all groups, with a diversity of faces, share in the full range of human behaviors—even the less admirable ones that lead to the problems Security Management tries to help you prevent.