Thursday, September 17, 2009

Questions About Race and the Media Coverage of Annie Le's Murder

Based on reports from national media outlets, the only people who ever go missing seem to be:

a. White
b. Female
c. Thin and relatively attractive
d. Upper class (by virtue of income or education)

What, then, do we make of the case of Annie Le, the Asian American Yale grad student who was reported missing last week and, unfortunately, found dead earlier this week? From what I can recall, Le is the first Asian American woman to have received national attention in a missing person’s case.

Some quick questions:

1. Does the fact that an Asian American woman got national attention normally reserved for white women count as progress? Is this an indication that a racial barrier has been broken? Can we expect more national coverage on missing women of color (not immediately, of course, but perhaps in the future)?

2. Does Le’s case going national say something about how far Asian Americans have been assimilated? Have Asian Americans, like Irish-Americans in the early 20th Century, been granted a pass into the hallowed hall of Whiteness? Did the fact that Le was going to marry a white/Jewish man make her more worthy of coverage?

3. What does it say about corporate media and its vision of America that a missing person must possess characteristics b. through d. in order for their disappearance to be deemed newsworthy?

By the way, there were still issues with how the police handled the situation, and some wonder whether her race had something to do with it.


BC Cook said...

I saw only the briefest bits of coverage but I was struck by two points:
1. She's very beautiful and not incidentally not extremely "asian" loking.
2. She was a PhD candidate at a very prestigious university.
I think those two factors were key. I didn't see/hear anything about who she was marrying.
I guess it's an "advance" of a kind...but yes, I think the murder of a beautiful (light-skinned) black woman who was also a PhD candidate at a top university could get national coverage.

Lets just do what we can to keep these women alive.

Vee (Scratch) said...

BC Cook,

1. I think that she's easily identified as an Asian American. Attractive, yes.

2. I think being a PhD candidate at Yale university also factors into national coverage, because they mention it often.

Anonymous said...

i agree that white people get more press than non-whites when they are missing.
i dont understand why you mentioned Ms. Le’s fiance’s religion as a possible reason for her disappearance being given more than the usual attention.

gordon gartrelle said...

Thanks, all.

I agree that her being a PhD candidate at Yale seems to be driving the news coverage, but this coverage falls within a larger tradition that governs how national media assign people value. If we exclude celebrities, only white people have been allowed to fulfill the role of socially or economically elite, victim/criminal who captures the nation's attention. That Le was Asian American is somewhat noteworthy.

Anonymous, I tossed out her fiance's identity as a possibility because many people draw certain conclusions about the social identities (e.g. level of assimilation, authenticity) of those in interracial relationships. And in our country's racial landscape, Le's fiance is effectively white. It has nothing to do with Judaism.