Headline Choices

What’s the difference between these murder headlines:

Immigrant Murders Woman

Muslim Murders Wife

Transgender Woman Murders Husband

And these ones:

Wife Murdered

Man Murders Young Actor

Woman Arrested in Murder of Area Woman

All of these murders took place in the UK or the US. In the second group of headlines, all of the perps or accused perps are white, cisgendered US/UK citizens.

So why do editors decide not to mention the race, religion or trans status of white murders in headlines? Why do they deliberately include that information only for people with some sort of minority status (immigrant, black or brown, trans, Muslim, etc.)? Does it make the story more “sensational”? If so, why? If not, than for what other possible reason would they include that information?

The effect of emphasizing what makes minority murderers different, not like us, while declining to emphasize the identities of white, Christian, straight, non-immigrant murderers, (who are more like “us” i.e. the majority), is to make it appear to the general media-consuming public that these minorities are more likely to commit crime, and/or that their minority status has something to do with the murder.

What would happen if every time a white person murdered, their race, religion, citizenship status, and trans-status were included in the headlines? Let’s try it out.

Straight White Man Murders Wife

Christian Citizen Murders Woman

Cisgendered White Woman Murders Husband

White Christian Man Murdered Wife

Straight Citizen Murdered Young Actor

Cisgendered Christian Woman Arrested in Murder of Area Woman

Interesting effect, isn’t it?


5 thoughts on “Headline Choices

  1. I think this fits under the broader banner of why white people identify all other people with their racial label but themselves. It seems perfectly natural that, when asked to describe someone race is often the first thing mentioned; ie ‘he was an Asian guy with …’ or ‘i go to this black dentist.’ Of course if it’s a white dentist it would sound stupid to say so, right?
    If you grew up in the Burbs I’m sure you’re familiar with this line of thought. I’ve struggled with it for years, cause even if I’ve trained myself not to say it and learned the wrong-headedness of that thinking, it still pops right in there.

    I would guess that the most obvious distinguishing factor between people after gender is race to the immediate eye; of course I am no scientist (I’m sure someone has researched this.)
    In that respect it makes a certain sense that white people would describe minorities in that way. Since whites are currently still a substantial majority (76% per 2006 Census, but definitely less than that in reality. Selective counting and all) and even more because whites seclude themselves from other races, when a POC is encountered it is something of an event.
    In countries that are not majority white, do white people there use “a white …” to describe other whites? Is part of the nature of being a minority that it is an easy tag to identify a person with. If whites were in the minority would they start referring to themselves this way? I’m not discounting the racial animus behind it either way, just wondering if there’s a practical (if cruel and racist) rationale underlying this phenomena?
    I guess my hope is that as whites cease to be a majority of any kind in this country they’ll be forced to drop some of their Narcissistic self-reverence and realize that maybe it’s a dick thing to just throw that fact into any story about a person just because they are (insert anything but straight/white here).

    Great headlines! The Christian one really resonates right now.. Urgh!

  2. Wow. I just got a flashback to sociology classes 10 years ago.

    It’s a way of “otherizing” people (I think I just made that word up). Basically the “norm” is a white, male, Christian person. If anyone differs from the “norm” then they get a special description. Man = human. Woman is a special/different kind of (hu)man. Man = white. Black man is a special/different kind of man. Man = Christian. Muslim man is a special/different kind of man. Etc… It’s fucked up, it’s based on the premise that people will automatically assume that the man is white when you see or hear “man.

    The three examples you gave, I think say a lot more though. Those headlines not only suggest that those “others” are more likely to commit crime, but even that perhaps their “otherness” is why they committed those crimes. I’ve found that they especially do this in the case of Muslim criminals…

    Sometimes you could try to make the argument that it’s almost kind of sort of a tiny bit valid (when it refers to crimes down in the name of religion) how that’s more often based on speculation and stereotypes than any real evidence. (Even in the “Muslim Murders Wife” article, it says Authorities have not discussed the role religion or culture might have played but the title acts as though it did). It does Islam a disservice to portray it as a religion that is inherently violent, because that’s just not true. There are a LOTTTTTT of violent crimes committed in the name of Christianity, but it’s not portrayed as such.

  3. Lilith said: “Man = human. Woman is a special/different kind of (hu)man. Man = white. Black man is a special/different kind of man. Man = Christian”

    I also think this goes for “American.” American = man. Woman is a different/special kind of American. American = white. Black American is a different/special kind of American. Etc. Actually, this specific example is, I believe, behind the claims of certain conservatives that Obama is not American, wasn’t born in America.

    Or, at Scornado:

    Dentist = white. Asian dentist is a special/different kind of dentist.

    I think it’s about assuming default characteristics more than anything. There are communities here in the US that are majority POC or majority queer, so that when referring to a white person or a straight person that fact is specifically pointed out. “Maria, I saw a white man come by your house today.”
    “What’s that straight girl doing in this club?”

  4. Great article. It’s something that I’ve seen many times and never really analyzed, but once I started thinking about it the examples were absolutely everywhere.

    But I’m sure white newsreaders would claim they were being singled out if they were hit by headlines like “White-on-White Crime at 20 Year High.” Wouldn’t “Caucasion Goes On Crime Spree” be seen as confrontational? As if all white’s were serial killers waiting to happen. But of course, if you are the ‘other’ it’s perfectly okay to put it into headlines and the writer can’t be held responsible for any incidental inferences they create or reinforce,… right? Ah, double standards.

  5. Pingback: Headline Choices | Czech Today

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