What the Racist “Psychology Today” Post Means for Feminism

If you somehow managed to miss the Internet firestorm over the past week, Satoshi Kanazawa penned a Psychology Today post last Monday allegedly “proving” that black women are objectively less attractive than other women. Though the article has been pulled from Psychology Today, you can find it in full here. Other writers have capably illustrated Kanazawa’s bad methodology and his penchant for dressing racism, sexism and conservatism as science. They have written about the impact of constant attacks on the psyche of black women. But I want to point out another thing that is illustrated by this controversy: that sexism affects black women uniquely.

All women bear the burden of the European beauty standard and the fact that, as women, our value as human beings is too often defined by how closely we fit the standard—how close we are to being white, blond, blue-eyed, thin, with long, straight hair, and a keen nose and lips. Narrow standards of beauty are oppressive to all but a few, but it is black women as a whole who are held up as the opposite of the ideal. In the book Black Dionysus: Greek Tragedy and African American Theatre, Kevin Wetmore writes that African American women are “constructed in contradiction to the ideology of white, female beauty.” We may be seen as sex objects, yes, but not as “pure and beautiful” like white women. At best, we may be portrayed as objects of men to “slake their lust.” In a society that equates female beauty with worth, black women are often deemed worthless. There is nothing “objective” about this, contrary to Kanazawa’s assertion. This is gender bias flavored with centuries of race bias.

Black women cannot unhook our womanhood from our blackness, despite the cries during the 2008 presidential election for us to choose. A feminism that seeks to dismantle the beauty standard must acknowledge its disparate impact on black women (and other women of color). It must be acknowledged that for the last week, folks have actually been vehemently debating whether the entirety of black women—millions of people all over the world with a diversity of appearances–really are objectively ugly. I simply cannot imagine a similar discussion about white women taking place—ever.

Sexism impacts women differently based on their race, age, class, sexuality, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all gender oppression. The most effective feminism realizes that. Satoshi Kanazawa is just the latest example of why intersection is so damned important.

Photo from Flickr user Vectorportal under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. SMH I wrote a short story covering this very aspect — from the POV of a light-skinned, black woman. It’s called YELLOW JACKET. You can find this story in my very first book, SCULPTURED NAILS AND NAPPY HAiR ( http://www.amazon.com/Sculptured-Nails-Nappy-Hair… )

    The protagonist in the story is wracked with self-loathing and self-doubt; completely clueless as to the way to present her case to … pretty much, exist, at all — in a society that consistently shows her that she is a toleration, at best.

    It seems that in the end, the recently sparked debate about objective ugliness comes from a place of objective dicklessness and closet longing… same place it usually comes from.

  2. withoutscene says:

    Exactly. Love every bit of this post.

  3. The Light says:

    Racism no longer drives a car known as the Model T Ford, the overt signs of whites only no longer exist. The newest form of racism drives a slick, refine, modified, efficient and highly tuned Jaguar.

    The covert means of racism consists of psychosocial, psychosexual and other means of psychological manipulation techniques.

    The vast majority of black people think their psyche is strong and can’t be manipulated. Thus, we’re standing on the side of the road looking for a Model T Ford and Jaguars are zooming by at 120 mph

  4. Thank you. This is a wonderful post. You said everything so well and succinctly. I hope white feminists, and everyone else who cares about fairness and freedom, take these words to heart and begin the process of furthering their own education.

  5. Love this post… I read many other post about this blog post. He’s had many crazy posts. Its wonderful to see us come together and fight his comments. And maybe its posts like yours that can help us stop degrading ourselves as well.

  6. What I hate most about Kanazawa besides his obvious misogyny and racism is that his “evolutionary explanations” are full of short thinking and contradictions. Moreover his texts are far from scientific objectivity and carry a strong touch of his opinion of “how it’s supposed to be”. And still he presumes to be a scientist and is being featured in magazines that claim to be scientific..

    • Well I think black women are absolutely beautiful. Actually all races have beautiful things about them…it would be boring if everyone fit the eurocentric “ideal”. I don’t want to fit the blonde, fair, hairless, large breasted “ideal” anyway.

  7. I agree with this analysis, but I’d like to read another couple of paragraphs: are such views in society changing? How best to guide that change into something better?

    My gut instinct is that such views are becoming less prevalent and (thankfully) under assault, due to the clear success of women in the public eye. Michelle Obama, to choose the obvious example, is unquestionably one of the most influential women in the sphere of style and beauty. Beyonce is the most powerful woman in show business. Rhianna is a superstar. Halle Berry won an Oscar. Tyra Banks is a visible *arbiter* of other people’s beauty on her America’s Next Top Model TV show!

    I am not saying that a few successful black women means that all black women are liberated. But equally, I cannot see how the constant presence of such culturally significant and powerful women on our screens can fail to have an equalising effect. Schoolyard racism and casual prejudice simply doesn’t make sense anymore and is increasingly difficult to rationalise. Coupled with the rise in mixed race couples and their children normalising a coffee-coloured form of beauty, the future is positive, surely? Even if the present is still structurally racist.

    Or, sitting in cosmopolitan central London as I am, do I have a warped view?

    • Not so much warped, just privileged to live in an area of the world that is more accepting of difference. The successes you note are surely to be praised but here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

      Michelle Obama is noted as a style and beauty icon, not so much as a Princeton and Harvard Law alum. Her work as the First Lady is wonderful, but also tied to domesticity and motherhood, not her considerable intellect.

      Beyonce, Rhianna, Halle Berry and Tyra Banks are wonderfully successful, yet their physical appearance is a large part of their “worth” and all lean more toward the good hair, light eyes and narrow-nosed group that disproportionately gains access to (white) celebrity.

      Lastly, while I can understand how the “coffee-coloured form of beauty” feels positive, in my mind it still lowers the value of darker hues by centering the “exotic” which in some ways makes men and women of color into sought after reproductive commodities furthering their historic over-sexualization.

      Here’s to hoping (and fighting) for the just future you are envisioning!

  8. Casimir says:

    It must be acknowledged that for the last week, folks have actually been vehemently debating whether the entirety of black women—millions of people all over the world with a diversity of appearances–really are objectively ugly.

    Excruciatingly true. It’s been incredibly disheartening to see the debate devolve into this in so, so many forums across the web.

    It also turns into a more generalized and just as warped argument about whether an objective beauty standard exists at all, with too many loud-mouthed condescending men trying to make the argument that a) it does exist and b) it justifies sexism.

  9. Right on. Thanks for this reminder of the importance of intersectionality in feminism.

  10. Ann Deluty says:

    The Japanese creation theory runs as follows. After God created the earth he wanted to make people. He mixed up a batch of dough, shaped a person and put the dough in the oven. He took it out too soon, it was underdone and pale and became the white race. He tried again but left the dough in too long and it got too brown, This became the black race. The third try he left the dough in for the exact amount of time and it came out perfect. This created the Japanese Race. Please note other Asians are not included except as a mixture of Japanese (perfect) and the other imperfect ones. Thus the Japanese invasion of China and Korea at various times.

  11. Christina says:

    Satoshi Kanazawa’s work is a real waste of space. Thanks for cluing me in on the Bill O’Reilly of ‘science’.

  12. Frances in California says:

    Does any serious person still take “Psychology Today” seriously? It’s a merchandising rag for Big Pharma to sell Drug du Jour; has been for some time. The fact that PT published this should prove Kanazawa’s venal incompetence.

  13. Victoria B says:

    I completely agree with the perception of black women as the opposite to the beauty ideal. Although have a white mother and a black father, society invariably sees me as a ‘black person’, disregarding my dual heritage.

    Having been raised in a overwhelmingly white, upper middle class environment where I was often told to my face from an early age by my peers (and my mother, who as blonde, blue eyed and thin more than fufills the beauty ideal,) that the way I looked and the characteristics I had inherited from my father were not only not the ideal but repulsive.

    However I would say that the discrimination has come from both black and white people. I have had black girls be unspeakably cruel merely because I am ‘light skinned’. Having been raised quite ignorant of the assumption that for some black people light skin, seemed to equal more attractive, this shocked me. To me as an somebody who is not black nor white, but straddles the two I could see that this idea clearly stemmed from society’s view of what is deemed beautiful. Such a narrow perception that refuses to acknowledge the breadth and subjectivity of ‘beauty’.

    Anybody that chooses to make such sweeping statements as Kanazawa is somebody who I cannot help but pity for their ignorance but also think as a danger to a progressive society.

  14. I think that there isn’t one supreme standard of female beauty that is thin, peachy, busty, blonde with high cheekbones and a thin nose; this is a fallacy destructive to millions of women, especially to darker skinned and haired women. Women of ALL colours, shapes, hair-types, nose-shapes, facial structures and ages and suchlike can be beautiful. Kanazawa is simply being a racist and trying to justify this with poor “science”. I’m not ugly (or ill) because I’m too pale for the European beauty standard and dark skinned people aren’t ugly because they’re darker than the European beauty aesthetic, that’s just a pile of silly nonsense. It’s a shame that stuff like this is still being published.

  15. Kathleen Clohessy says:

    I read about half of the article and quite frankly have no idea what the author was trying to say. Does he really believe that it is possible to scientifically quantify physical attraction based on culturally accepted norms? One thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other; show us as many charts and graphs as you want..it’s still a bunch of pseudo-scientific crap. If we all needed to look like Barbie and Ken to be physically and sexually attractive, we would be a very lonely bunch indeed.

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