Psychology Today made an unfortunate editorial decision to republish an article by a Japanese researcher that asks, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” The piece was published May 15 by Satoshi Kanazawa in The Scientific Fundamentalist.
Amidst outrage and furor over the article, Psychology Today first revised the headline — to read “Rated Less Physically Attractive” — then yanked it from its Web site altogether. Cyberspace is unforgiving, however, and just as quickly as it was pulled, a cached version was recovered, circulated and made the subject of many a blog posts.
There is nothing new about Kanazawa’s flawed and racist article. Save the inflammatory title, it is but part of a string of studies released over the years that have aimed at examining human preference and beauty ideals. The grandfather of it all was a 1960s report by JG Martin, Racial ethnocentrism and judgment of beauty, published in the Journal of Social Psychology. It found that black and white men preferred women with more Caucasian features compared to black African men who preferred women with Negroid features. Several subsequent researchers have cited Martin and used his early work as the basis for their own studies intellectualizing things like the role of skin color and its implication on black women in therapy; why people, in general, prefer full lips over thin lips; and why African-American men prefer long-haired and light-skinned women over short-haired dark-skinned ones, for example. Martin’s study was released in 1964, when the standards of beauty in America skewed Eurocentric. Today, there is wider appreciation for variations of attractiveness.
I am not surprised by Kanazawa’s publication. It’s been going on under our noses all this time. Pervasively, each subsequent study, survey, paper, article, analysis and research finding dealing with black women is negative and essentially bemoans the social, physiological, psychological or pathological ills that plague us.
I took notice of the phenomenon in October when I saw a study about how black and Hispanic women retained weight after having a baby. Upon further inquiry, I discovered the authors had oversampled women getting prenatal care in clinics, which are used overwhelmingly by low-income women of color. Certainly, had the study included women of all races and socioeconomic standings, the results would have revealed that post-baby weight is a woman problem, not a minority woman problem.
So with that discovery, this season on my Blog Talk Radio show Right of Black, I started a weekly segment called: “The Black Women Pathology of the Week,” ranting on whatever study happened to be released.
And when I say “of the week,” I mean it:
April 1, 2011 — A report found that black women have more children with different fathers than all other races of women in America, the result of a study funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the Center for Research on Diverse Family Contexts and the Joan Huber and William Form Research Fund.
April 11, 2011 — A study from the Institute of Dermatology and Plastic Surgery in Cleveland, Ohio, found that black women have hair loss because of the way they style their hair.
April 15, 2011 — A report found African-American women had higher rates of infertility, according to research conducted by the Center for Human Reproduction in New York.
April 28, 2011 — A report by the California Department of Public Health showed that African-American women in California die of pregnancy-related causes at rates four times higher than those of white women and other ethnic groups, and as high as those seen in some developing countries.
The weekly reminders of how inadequate, lacking and damaged we black women are as a group has been going on before then, of course. Two months before I started tracking these reports, there was uproar when black women awakened to news that they had become the poster children for abortion. Following the release of statistics from the New York City Department of Health that showed that 57 percent of black pregnancies in New York end in abortion, an anti-abortion group Life Always put up a billboard in a predominantly white Soho neighborhood of a little black girl under words that that read, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” After much controversy, the billboard company to pulled it.
The problem for me was not necessarily the data but the perception they create among the general public about this group I belong to. The negligence of Psychology Today, a reputable and credible publication, in publishing the pseudoscience based on Eugenics and faulty reasoning was that it gave the study weight and credibility it did not deserve.
These surveys are seemingly harmless for someone secure in her abilities and who knows that these reports do not negate our value, worth and beauty. I worry, though, about those young girls and women who are not so confident and self-aware.
Also, data like these, when released for public consumption, find their way into the subconscious of the general public. We are already tagged with having high rates of obesity, new AIDS/HIV cases, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These new weekly studies contribute to our further “abnormalization.”
People internalize this information, and it gets buried deep in their psyche. It forms the basis for stereotypes and skewed perceptions. These messages remain latent until it matters most — when the person applying for a job, seeking promotion, auditioning for a part in a play or participating in any competition is a black woman.
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt covers politics, law and technology on her poli-tech blog Jenebaspeaks.com and writes the Politics of Raising Children in the Washington Times Communities. Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks.