Psychology Today published a piece this week titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”.
In the article, which has since been removed from the website where it originally appeared, evolutionary psychologist and racial provocateur Satoshi Kanazawa uses faulty logic and sketchy studies to explain his observation that black women are “objectively” less attractive than women of other races.
The resulting piece of journalism — and I use that word very loosely in this case — is just as offensive as one might suspect. And the author’s arguments turn out to have quite a few holes, not the least of which is that his “scientific analysis” of black women’s inferior beauty is based on the opinions of unidentified “interviewers” and their entirely subjective standards of beauty.
Having some men in white coats rate the attractiveness of a handful of women on a scale of 1-5 resembles a glorified version of the game “hot or not”, not some serious attempt at engaging the scientific method. Which raises the question: why were such racist views and stereotypes about black women’s attractiveness ever treated as legitimate by a prominent psychology publication?
WATCH TAMRON HALL’S ‘NEWS NATION’ COVERAGE OF THIS STORY:
It’s 2011, and questions about racial inferiority were settled ages ago. These days phrenology (a pseudoscience that once sought to establish black inferiority using measurements of the skull) is known better as the title of a classic Roots album than a credible scientific theory of racial essentialism. And in an age where the black community can claim the beauty and talent of gorgeous women like Beyoncé, Kerry Washington, Jill Scott, Michelle Obama, Jada Pinkett Smith, Erykah Badu, and so many more, it’s hard not to balk at ridiculous suggestions that we don’t got it going on.
Yet Kanazawa was given a platform to spew his hateful message about us anyway, perhaps in a sad attempt to generate controversy, attention, or profit for Psychology Today. His statements predictably set off a firestorm with bloggers, pundits, and journalists alike debating whether or not such comments are appropriate or justified, with no attention to the fact that engaging in such a discussion at all legitimizes the original provocation, and that women of other races don’t seem to receive public scrutiny of this nature and frequency.
But noting the racial bias inherent to Kanazawa’s argument would presume the presence of facts, whereas his article relies only on non-sequiturs and subjective interpretation to bolster his bogus claims. He makes sweeping generalizations about black women based on a study whose methodology is never properly explored, pointing out that black women are on average heavier than other women (citing the BMI as a means of gauging heaviness, though this is not standard across races, and heaviness is not universally unattractive) and suggesting that black people are less intelligent on the whole (though this concept has been debunked time and time again) without properly citing these findings or clearly delineating their relevance to the question at hand.
Finally, he admits that “the only thing [he] can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is…higher levels of testosterone”.
It’s clear that it’s racism — not science — that Kanazawa is truly interested in. His thinly veiled gender and race essentialism is not hard to spot. But perhaps more disturbing than the content of the article itself is the fact that prominent publications like Psychology Today hosted such ignorant, ill-informed and poorly researched rantings. Kanazawa is nothing more than a professional racist, infamous for his bad science as much as he is for his views on black inferiority. By headlining such obviously unfounded statements, even if only to generate controversy and publicity for themselves, Psychology Today perpetuated negative and offensive racial stereotypes, and they should have known better.
Among Kanazawa’s radically ridiculous stances is the idea that African states are poor and suffer chronic ill-health because their populations are “less intelligent” than those that inhabit richer countries, and that simple measurements like the average IQ of a country can somehow be used to derive complicated information about its health care systems and development. This is a guy who, after the September 11th attacks, publicly called for the use of atomic force in the Middle East. PZ Myers, a leader in the field of evolutionary developmental biology, has called him the “great idiot of social science”.
Yet his views continue to find prominence at the London School of Economics, the British Journal of Health Psychology, and Psychology Today, among others.
Views like Kanazawa’s are even more hurtful when one considers that they are not new or unique, but are in fact indicative of a larger phenomenon of race-baiting, and a trend towards the promotion of hate speech in the name of academic discourse. Kanazawa’s article is only the latest in a series of hate-fueled criticisms of our beauty and our desirability. These views have gained prominence through the complicity of the media, universities, institutions, and even scholarly journals that treat them as legitimate, often in the name of spikes in attention and visibility that accompany the ensuing controversy.
As a result, black women face increased scrutiny regarding our beauty and behavior. In two recent incidents, Rihanna was forced to endure questions on Twitter about the “nappy hair” she displays on her latest single’s cover, and Rush Limbaugh criticized first lady Michelle Obama’s eating habits and body type, noting that she “does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue”.
Media outlets and scholarly journals and institutions have to do better than play host to hate.
Psychology Today has removed the original article from its website (although you can still view the page here), but they claim they did so only because the traffic the piece received crashed their site — not because it offended anyone. To date, they have yet to respond to criticism of the piece’s content. One has to wonder what possessed them to run the story in the first place. Theirs is no small platform, and they should realize the responsibility that comes with the scope of their audience.
According to their website, they sell 300,000 magazines per issue, which are read by 2.5 million people, and a further 5 million people per month visit the Psychology Today website. They purport to promote the voices of “leading academics, clinicians and authors in our field to contribute their thoughts and ideas”. With such a wide audience and aspirational mission statement, it seems completely counter-intuitive that they would stoop so low.
At the time of this posting, Psychology Today had not yet responded to request for comment. But they should be held accountable for their role in perpetuating negative stereotypes about black women. It might be taboo, politically incorrect, and attention-grabbing to make generalizations about women’s beauty by race. But that doesn’t make it publishable. Kanazawa’s article isn’t science; it’s racism. And it is not only harming black women, but everyone who might buy into its faulty premise, either consciously or sub-consciously.
For every Kanazawa of the world who claims that black women’s beauty is “objectively inferior”, I know someone who would disagree. Because the truth is that back women make up some of the most beautiful women — and people — that I have ever had the honor of knowing. And while this statement may not generate as much controversy or drum up as many pageviews, it’s time we started to treat the radical notion that black is beautiful as something worth finding a platform for.