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The image in question (Credit: Keith Negley for the NYTimes)

Readers complained over a New York Times illustration for domestic violence that showed the female victim was white and the male attacker as black, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan reported.

Sullivan argued that readers’ complaints were “valid” and suggested the illustration shouldn’t have been run as it did. “This, pretty clearly, should have been a case of ‘back to the drawing board,'” she wrote.

The illustration accompanied a Feb. 3 opinion piece, “To Stop Violence, Start at Home.”

Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal argued the illustration wasn’t “racial” and that the man was supposed to be a “shadow” or “cutout.”

“The intent, and we thought the effect, of the illustration was to put the man in shadow, to show him as a cutout, or negative space, and certainly not to draw him as African American,” Rosenthal told Sullivan. “We avoided putting any racial features in the drawing, and it’s problematic to suggest that the color black automatically means African American.”

Because readers complained, he did seemingly apologize but said it was a mis-interpretation of the illustration, writing to Sullivan that:

“However, everything is open to interpretation, especially visual images, and we regret that this illustration led some readers to conclude that we were portraying the abuser as African American and the victim as white. It was certainly not our intent.”

The illustrator, Keith Negley, told iMediaEthics by e-mail that he understands why readers complained and said he is treating this as a learning experience.

“I think the complaints are absolutely legitimate,” Negley told iMediaEthics. “While I used the black and white as compositional tools, and not to denote race, I can see the issue others have raised.”

He went on,

“Given the nature of this particular article I should’ve taken more time into considering how the image would be perceived within a social context. The last thing I wanted to do is perpetrate a harmful stereotype and as a white male, who has been afforded all the privileges that come with that, I get to listen and learn from this, I want to always be learning. This has been eye opening and I’m grateful to those who have spoken up about it. I think these conversations are vital to raising our social consciousness and elevating the medium of illustration as a whole.”

Negley also discussed the illustration and responded to tweeted questions about his choices on Twitter.

He said he made the man black “so the figure would pop off the newsprint page, not to denote race,” but that he understands why readers may have thought otherwise. “Last thing I want to do is perpetrate harmful stereotypes,” he added. “While that was not my intention here, I should be more conscious.”

He explained he made the man black and the woman white, instead of the opposite: “Being a B+W paper I wanted the male figure to be the focus, so I went with black since it’s the most bold choice for the page, without considering the social context  in which this illustration would be seen in.”

Read the whole chain below:


 

 


 

 


 

 

 

Negley also posted a blogpost on his website about the incident.

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Why did NYT Use Violent Black Male Attacker, White Female Victim image, readers ask?

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