Take a good look at this man.
While I don’t profess to have the prophetic clairvoyance of Harold Camping, I do have a pretty keen eye for social, political and historical patterns. And I’d be willing to wager that in a few years, the man that you see above will be spoken of in the same breath as Eugen Fischer and Richard Herrnstein (author of The Bell Curve) – men who used their own tainted brand of “science” to promote their own racist agendas.
His name is Satoshi Kanazawa. He is a London-based evolutionary psychologist who recently published an article entitled, Why Black Women Are Less Attractive Than Other Women on the Psychology Today blog. When I came across this article, I honestly believed it was a joke.
And while I would be telling a lie audacious enough to land me a Congressional seat if I didn’t admit that I was hurt by this article, my hurt isn’t the impetus for my criticism. I can deal with hurt feelings in the face of solid, scientific, fact. What struck me about this “study” was how flimsy Kanazawa’s science was. Even with my laymen’s (and I do mean laymen’s) grasp of evolutionary psychology, the article’s assertions seemed unsupported by strong methodology. Even to my untrained eye and limited understanding, the holes were glaring. Kanazawa presented very little that suggested that he had access to – let alone utilized – tools that could measure something as subjective as human attractiveness.
So, I did some research on Satoshi Kanazawa and found that quite a few of his peers have the same bone to pick with him. In fact, biologist PZ Myers referred to Kanazawa as the “great idiot of social science.” Apparently, a number of his colleagues take offense at the very cavalier way that Kanazawa conducts his science , which seems to be more about building a career courting controversy and giving credence to sexist/racist/elitist ideas then it is about carrying out sound research.
In the time that it took me to do some cursory research on Kanazawa, the title of the article began morphing. Psychology Today frantically tried to clean the situation up , without sacrificing the precious site-traffic that the article was generating. So, the title was changed to “Why Black Women Are RATED Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women.” Were these title changes merely feeble attempts to deflect criticism? We may never know.
Kanazawa’s “science” involved asking a select group of people to rate “races” based on attractiveness. According to the findings, black women were found least attractive and black men were found most attractive. Kanazawa attributed this to the fact that black women were fatter and less intelligent. To further add credibility to his scientific findings, he concluded the article by stating that he wasn’t exactly sure why the experiment turned out the way it did but that “the only thing he could think of ” was that it had to do with testosterone – both black women and men have more of it. He guessed that this heightened level of testosterone made both black men and women more masculine – a trait desirable in men. Women – not so much.
I could write a whole blog on why we should be worried when an esteemed scientist and intellectual publishes something in which he uses the phrase “the only thing I can think of”…but I digress.
Now, in addition to the questionable methods that he employs, the credibility of his research receives yet another devastating blow due to its complete omission of important socio-cultural factors that condition our ideas about beauty and attractiveness. We live in a world where the white beauty standard prevails. This standard was necessary in order to build a system of domination based on white superiority. The maintenance of this standard is just as important today to uphold the current system. And don’t get it twisted, this standard of beauty is not limited to the United States or Europe. It is a standard that has come crashing into every corner of the globe – often on the back of colonization and conquest.
The significance of this is more than just aesthetic. It is also very political. The symbol of the white woman as the standard, is a necessary component in the maintenance of this system…a well placed cog in the machine. And it’s not just white people who believe in and adhere to this standard. Many non-whites have accepted this standard of beauty as well and perpetuate it, even at the peril of our own psyche. This is known as internalized racism and manifests even in very young children. One only has to refer to constant friction between light skinned and dark skinned blacks or the infamous Clark Doll Experiments (replicated in the news clip below) to see the devastating implications.
So, really, we don’t need Kanazawa’s science to tell us that we live in a world where ALL of us are constantly exposed to and feed off images of white beauty and that this may lead to some people rating black women as less attractive. The fact that an evolutionary psychologist failed to make, or even acknowledge, this very important link makes me think that Kanazawa “Kim Kardashian-ed” his way up the academic and professional ladder.
What about the finding that black men are the most attractive? Well, while it is true that the “only thing” that Kanazawa can come up with to explain this is his sketchy testosterone theory, I can come up with some other reasons that are again rooted in our historical and socio-cultural fabric. In order to justify chattel slavery and colonization, slaveholders and all those with a vested interest in slavery, had to concoct all kinds of foolishness. This included promoting the notion that black men were dangerous, over-sexualized brutes who were a threat to public safety and who would rape white women, if given the opportunity. This representation was bolstered by stereotypes and cultural images that promoted a black male sexuality that was deviant, animalistic and predatory. It was a campaign to invoke fear. But it also, perhaps inadvertently, fueled fantasy.
And it is this dichotomy of fear/fantasy that shapes the contemporary representations of black manhood and sexuality. Many of the current media images of black men still speak to this notion of the “black brute” – thugged out, little in the way of intellectual development but sexually virile in the extreme. Racism creates and keeps pushing the stereotype and internalized racism accepts it and keeps perpetuating it.
The fact that we live in a world where definitions of beauty, attractiveness and sexuality are grossly distorted and skewed to fit social and political agendas means absolutely nothing in the context of this experiment, Mr. Kawazana? Does your study speak more to the ugliness of black women or the social conditioning of your respondents? Or does it speak to your own personal biases and agendas?
In the past couple of years, I have been working hard to place the same premium on my heart as I do my head. So often, I have hid within my mind, afraid of being vulnerable and emotional in public. Naturally, this led to a unhealthy identification with the thinking function to the detriment of the feeling function. Had I wrote this article back then, I would have stopped at the last paragraph, content in the notion that I had made my point.
But today, it is important that I acknowledge the hurt and pain that always permeates my spirit every time I have to weather one of these attacks on black womanhood. Be it as subtle as opening beauty magazines and finding few faces that look like mine or as blatant as having to read articles that “scientifically prove” that black women are the least attractive women in the world, black women are constantly bombarded by social, cultural, and political forces that undermine our self-esteem. What is most hurtful to me is that these attacks often come from black men as well. To be a black woman in this world requires a very thick skin – one that can withstand the dual jabs of sexism AND racism. It also must come with enough fortitude to carry us through when our thick skin, too, becomes another reason for persecution (i.e. too strong, emasculating, unfeminine, etc).
And so I am speaking, first and foremost, to my sisters when I say that we must believe the truth about who we are in a world that works diligently to define us within racist and sexist contexts. We have to throw off the shackles that keep us from loving ourselves and subsequently each other. We have to KNOW ourselves fiercely in this world.
The fact that we have to reject Kanazawa’s brand of racist science is obvious. But what is equally important is that we search deep inside and root out the bits of Kanazawa that are lurking within us – the internalized racism and sexism that makes us hate our features, our hair, our skin and other women that look like us and share our experiences.
I am less concerned with changing racist men who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and more concerned with building an impenetrable understanding and appreciation of self that will ultimately allow us to prevail, in spite of the constant assault. Indeed, because of it.
That’s real science….