5/18/2011

Racist Theory



Satoshi Kanazawa doesn't find black women attractive. He thinks they're too fat and have too much testosterone. In fact, he's so convinced of this, he decided to do some scientific research to support this claim, because, after all, one can scientifically prove that black women are ugly.

Kanazawa isn't just a regular guy entitled to his opinion, he's an evolutionary psychologist at London School of Economics and, unlike other racists, he's got membership to the inner circle. Kanazawa recently published an article on Psychology Today's blog explaining his theory of why black women are less attractive than women of other races. He cites a large amount of testosterone in African women and that black women are much heavier than non black women.

Kanazawa is entitled to have his opinions. There were plenty of commenters who agreed with him. . . another story. But to try and use figures (comparing mass body indexes, levels of testosterone) to support his personal idea of beauty, as an example of academic research, is something else entirely. It's an embarrassment to Psychology Today and to London School of Economics for even entertaining Kanazawa's theories as serious.

Black women being perceived as "unattractive" is nothing new. It took decades before magazines began showing beautiful black women on their covers or began using cute black little girls in advertisements. While it is now common to see images of black women, commercial beauty is still predominately the face of a white woman. (Not to mention that black models are often photo shopped to look lighter and their hair is usually straightened)

But who cares about Vogue? Who cares if the Pampers Baby is almost always white?

I do care, however, about what academics say. They have a tremendous amount of power and influence. Even if they are criticized (as Kanazawa has been) their theories resonate much longer than the image of a pretty black woman on the cover of Elle.

15 comments:

Daniel said...

Well what isn't and what is (sexually) attractive and more importantly to whom is complicated and scientificly not very well understood. What seems to be clear is, that there is much variation between individuals. So much for defining a relation between BMI, hormone levels and sexual attraction.
Would be interesting to see, how he tried to proof such a relation experimentally. Probably he did not even try to fake something.

What feels even more wrong - after all everybody can define beauty how ever he likes - is, that claim, that black women even have higher testosterone levels. That is a biological fact, that's either true or false. So does he has some data to back that up? Most of these "scientific" racist theories already collapse at that data-level, which renders a discussion about any interpretation pointless.

I wouldn't say, that the "Pampers Baby" is less important though. Advertisement has a far greater impact on public perception. Theories published by intellectuals just back the existing prejudices up with the illusion of respectability. That makes them more dangerous than some arbitrary advertisement, but they wouldn't have a chance, if they wouldn't back up, what people already believed.

Laura said...

That German advertisement mostly shows white people doesn't really bother me.

But what struck me as bizarre was to see the ads in Brasil and in Asia. To me they seemed to overproportionally show white people. Who are a tiny minority. Why? - I couldn't find out.

Although I don't like this theory, it's the only one I could come up with: do women in these countries find white women more attractive? (Does it maybe have to do with the perception that white people are 'the rich people'?) Still, it's strange and I dearly wish it was different.

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

its one thing to say that statistically black women are least likely to marry because that can actually be proven...but to say they are the ugliest? this guy is a nut, but what is so sad is that the majority of the public agree with him.

sometimes I wonder if the worst anti-black people are nonwhites. Guys like him are able to do what he can do because black people broke down the barrier for him.

currentsbetweenshores said...

@Daniel, Even if he did have evidence that black women have higher testosterone levels, what does that prove? That black women have more muscle tone? Is that then the basis for being less "attractive"? There is absolutely no connection between his supposed facts and his opinion. If he wants to research the reasons for the predominance of white women as icons of beauty then he needs to get out of the lab and start reading history, which can easily connect the dots of perceived beauty and will obviously change with geographical region.

@Laura, The reason you see so many white women in ads in Brazil and all over South America and the Caribbean is a result of centuries of colonialism, which really did an effective job of convincing black and brown women that in order to be beautiful, they should lighten their skin (a booming business in some countries in Africa, btw!), straighten their hair and dress the way the colonialists did. So, to answer your question, yes, I think people have been led to believe that white women are indeed more beautiful. And why would they think any differently if ads, commercials etc confirm it? I can't tell you what it was like when I finally saw a black model for the first time. I was surprised and taken aback even. It was so new! I stared at the poster and stood in the middle of the block for like 5 minutes! If you don't see beautiful images of yourself, you could get the impression that maybe you are ugly? But we are now in a different age, with so many examples of beauty, and even intelligence (the latter took longer!) so to hear a respected scholar come up with such nonsense is offensive and disturbing, precisely b/c we know why this image of beauty persisted for so long. Even in Germany one sees more black models, b/c it is now considered old school and provincial to keep showing images of Heidi-like women. Besides, some parts of Germany simply don't look like that any more!

@Life Very true, it is very divisive and so sad that nonwhite people work so hard to perpetuate stereotypes and ignorance about other nonwhite people. Again, a product of colonialism and slavery.

Maya M said...

A minor correction: the guy's first name is Satoshi.
He has a Wikipedia page, have you seen it? It is a pleasure to read.
"Myers, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota, has called Kanazawa "the great idiot of social science"... On May 18, 2011, the University of London Union Senate... voted unanimously... for a campaign for Kanazawa's dismissal. The reasons... include "flawed research" and "unscientific bigotry"."
Among other things, he "found" that "beautiful" people have more daughters. I wonder who gives PhD degrees to such idiots?
You could make a revenge by "researching" why Oriental men are unattractive, but I know you won't do it :-).

Daniel said...

@Rose-Anne
Well of cause the connection is crap.
But usually with "results" like these the whole research stinks.
And it just would surprise me, if he was right about the statistics. Black and white women are much too heterogeneous groups, so a significant correlation between just one feature like "testosterone level" and "race" would be very surprising. And I think, it is more important, than it seems at first. Because data like that is used to claim, that something like human subspecies exists. And that's really the basis for all "scientific racism". But maybe I see that to much from a scientific angle.

@Maya
It really is. This guy is completely nuts. They probably gave him his position to get more publicity, and it probably worked...

Viajera said...

These nut jobs keep cropping up. Even in Canada where there "black" people are still a minority among minorities. There is one craniologist at the University of Western Ontario who has his own theories based on a "science" that's been debunked a million times over. God bless tenure, because it keeps racists employed.

What's their beef with us anyway? Why are some people so invested in trying to prove that we with the natural tan aren't good enough? We've proven it and don't have to prove it to anyone else.

But, yeah, we need to really fight these people. Because the negative images persist and most people will see the first "research" results, and won't see the retraction.

Absolutely embarrasssing for LSE and this man is an utter racist disgrace.

Nadève said...

I'd never heard of this guy before your post. Ignorance is bliss!

I do agree with Daniel, though, that the Pampers baby and Vogue have a much greater impact than academic research. Unfortunately?

Anonymous said...

The first time I heard about this pseudo-scientist is in 2006 when he first published a paper in British Journal of Health Psychology suggesting that poor health of people in some African "nations is the result, not of poverty, but rather lower IQ." An acquaintance who is an editor of another journal was so angry he wrote a letter to the editors accusing them of ignoring questionable data, inappropriate statistical analysis and biased interpretations on purpose to increase readership... Unfortunately for me, I still remember his name.

I don't know which one is worse: to be considered stupid or to be considered ugly. I must say this new study did not disturb me as much as the first one... A fool is a fool is a fool...even if he is in academia

@Maya: There are many idiots with a PhD or with an MD and even with an MD-PhD. I am surprised you don't have one in your department :) By the way, there are studies showing that Asian men are considered the least attractive of all men... Maybe that should be the next project for the man of the hour.

Here is one such study linked on Slate:
http://www.slate.com/id/2177637/nav/tap3/

From an Asian point of view:
http://www.halfsigma.com/2007/11/bad-news-for-as.html

Mi

currentsbetweenshores said...

@all, of course ads have a tremendous amount of impact on how we perceive beauty. I guess, now, today, being who I am, I'm troubled a bit more by academics making such claims b/c it shows that bigotry is not only an ailment of ignorance, isolation and intellectual poverty. It bothers me that respected institutions like LSE allow such intellectual blasphemy to find a home in their halls. It bothers me that Kanazawa teaches other young minds. "The only responsibility that scientists have is to the truth," he says. "Nothing else. Scientists are not responsible for the potential or actual consequences of the knowledge they create."
This I find even more troubling b/c he is a scientist who clearly does not have a logical understanding of truth. This downright disturbs me more than the superficiality of an ad whose mere purpose is to make a buck. Obviously Kanazawa is selling books for his controversial nonsense but his motivation is under the guise of science. This is, in 2011, terribly terribly scary.

Thanks for the correction, Maya. Wrote this post a bit too quickly (and I was still annoyed!)

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

I was scouring the internet to see other responses and here is the most disturbing yet: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/05/19/london-school-economics-probes-lecturers-posting-race/?test=latestnews#comment

I expect websites like Stormfront to enjoy these results, as they live for anything anti-black, but man, Fox News can basically be the new white supremacist website. Their blindly believing this study proves yet again how they will blindly believe in anything that agrees with their point of view...no questions asked. Which is why I consider republicans so extreme and dangerous to America.

These are the kind of people that want to lead our country. These are the kind of people that will be responsible for returning America back into legal racism if not slavery itself. These are the people that want to destroy the fabric of this country.

What is also sad is how over at Huffington Post, its not that much better. And that is a liberal website.

The only thing worse than someone committing an act of racism, is someone condoning it.

I found it interesting that the only person at Psychology Today that came out against Satoshi was Mikhail Lyubansky considering how powerful racism is over in Russia.

Fabian said...

It took me a moment to realize that Mr. Kanazawa is a contemporary. The picture led me astray. I can not believe that anyone still has such absurd theories. Is Mr. Kanazawa really a scientist? Maybe someone should look at his doctor thesis. ;-)

@Rose-Anne:I love your blog. I always find something to laugh or think.

Anonymous said...

It is no surprise to me. This is 2011 the age of 21st century style racism. Where racism has found new ways to be just as bad as the Jim crow era. Anyone that thinks differently is living under a rock.

Maya M said...

A sequel (not from intentional follow-up, it just popped in Yahoo!News):
"Psychology Today Apologizes for 'Black Women Less Attractive' Post"
http://news.yahoo.com/s/atlantic/20110528/tc_atlantic/
psychologytodayapologizesblackwomenlessattractivearticle38261
And so they must, I would say!
BTW, Darwin himself would strongly disagree with the so-called doctor Kanazawa. According to Darwin's hypothesis, dark skin evolved as a result of sexual selection because darker people were perceived as more attractive partners. According to today's science, Darwin was wrong - dark skin was the primary rather than the secondary trait, and it evolved for UV protection. Still, Darwin's theory makes me like him.

currentsbetweenshores said...

Thanks for that Maya. I was off the face of the map last week and didn't read that!