Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Ugly Truth: Today’s Psychologies of Racism and Sexism


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By now, most of you have heard of the blog article that appeared in yesterday's issue of Psychology Today asserting that Black women are objectively less attractive than women of all other races. The piece was removed after a bad attempt at re-titling it, but here's a repost.

Here's a truth: Objectivity is the originary creation myth of science.

But that's not what this post is about. 

I want to make three very brief observations about this so-called "study" published in Psychology Today.

First, in addition to making disturbing pronouncements about the lack of intelligence of Black people as a whole, Satoshi Kanazawa, the "study's" author concluded that while Black women were in "fact" less attractive than all other groups, we subjectively believed ourselves to be more attractive than any other race of women. So the study argues that we are a culture of mentally impoverished, delusional womenfolk, who have an aversion to fact. Meanwhile, the pseudoscience of this study, in perpetuating the notion that Blacks are not only mentally inferior but mentally unwell, offers conclusions that are  wholly and regrettably ableist.

Kanazawa goes on to perpetuate the biologically determinist, essentialist fiction that there are significant genetic differences between the races:

"There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive."

And this leads to the second observation: this particular pronouncement not only pivots upon pure lies, but is also a not-so-subtle attempt to perpetuate the gender wars between Black men and women, and I hope thinking brothers don't fall for it. And even better, I hope they view this as an opportunity to stand for and with Black women, without re-centering the racial narrative on themselves. For once, racist pseudoscience seems to be working in Black men's favor, although I suspect that these notions of Black male objective beauty pivot upon their own set of problematic cultural fetishizing of the Black male body.

The entire point of this study is that Black women's "objective ugliness" can be determined by genetics, and because this is clearly a conclusion searching for facts, the author locates the culprit in testosterone. He argues that Black women have more testosterone than other women, which makes our bodies more masculine and therefore less attractive. In addition to offering a biological basis for the Sapphire myth of the emasculating, angry, aggressive Black woman, Kanazawa's pronouncements remind me of the same 1850s era gender beliefs that had Sojourner Truth bearing her breasts to prove she was indeed a woman.

And this brings me to the third and final point: the failure to consider the ways in which these pronouncements impact transwomen makes this study an exercise in transphobia as well.

Let me, however, be honest in saying that this study did not merely make me angry. It also hurt my feelings. These continual daily assaults on the bodies and minds of Black women do take a toll, psychically and physically. There is a very real reason why Black women quoting Sister Fannie, are "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Our bodies have so little value in American society that magazines, media, musicians, Black film directors and romantic advice gurus, and any other post-moral opportunists have no problem waging an all out cultural assault on our intelligence, achievements, feelings, or bodies to sell the product their selling.  This ridiculousness reaffirms the very real need for Black women to have a committed regimen of self-care. 

And on that note, I am now resuming my vacation.

To support the cause, please sign this petition calling for editorial acccountability at Psychology Today over at Change.Org.

And for additional excellent coverage of the response to this debacle, check out

Akiba Solomon's piece at ColorLines here and

Latoya Peterson's piece at Racialicious here.


Things you can do from here:


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