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Media needs to talk about race in a productive manner



I was deeply troubled to read the front-page story in the Indiana Daily Student today about the conviction of Vaylan Glazebrook for the rape of two IU students in 2014. Certainly the crime was heinous, and reading about it was horrifying in and of itself. Justice was served, and Glazebrook got exactly what he deserved with what amounts to a life sentence.

I’m curious, however, as to why the Indiana Daily Student and author Nyssa Kruse thought it was necessary to tell this story in this way. The story here is that Glazebrook was convicted and will spend his life in prison; the sensationalistic, tabloid-style, moment-by-moment account of the rapes was not really relevant to the story. I say this not because I’m disturbed by sex, profanity or violence in the Indiana Daily Student, but rather for the almost obsessive focus Ms. Kruse placed on the race of the perpetrators, and the way she seems to revel in reinforcing tired, racist stereotypes about violent, dangerous black men.

Certainly the race of a suspect is relevant if he or she is still at large, or during testimony for a trial. And, sure, in this case, the perpetrators were, in fact, African American. But what purpose did it serve in this article? Why did we need to know that “the whites of his eyes stood out to her against his dark skin”? Why did we need to know their relative skin tones, that one had lighter and one darker skin? All this does is luridly reinforce stereotypes about black men as old as this country itself. Stereotypes like this are the reason thousands of black men were lynched at the beginning of the last century; it’s the reason that black men are more likely to be found guilty and receive longer sentences when accused of the same crimes as white men; it’s why black men, even when unarmed, are so much more likely to be shot by the police. I find it utterly shameful that you published this. It’s sensationalistic. It’s stereotypical. It’s racist.

Bryan Pitts, Ph.D.

Associate Director

Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

This letter was submitted in response to an article entitled "How the assaults of 2 IU students unfolded" published in the Feb. 19, 2018, print edition of the Indiana Daily Student.

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