Anthony Asadullah Samad

*Psychology Today, an academic journal that examines emerging thought and literature in the field of psychology, published on its website blog an article earlier this month that demonstrates why we should be ever vigilant about assaults on human dignity of Africans and African Americans that threatens to subjugate the sociological standing in the society.

Satoshi Kanazawa, a Japanese psychologist and controversial researcher, wrote an article that was a purported study on anatomical beauty traits, originally entitled, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” After a swift and quick public outcry, the title of the article was changed to, “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Attractive Than Other Women, While Black Men Rated More Attractive Than Other Men?”

When you start manipulating the title of the study, you kinda know the manipulation doesn’t stop there. Psychology Today’s website finally pulled the article down (after less than a week) but the public discourse doesn’t end there. While we can (and will) talk about this as being yet another opportunity to assault the self-esteem and dignity of black women directly, and the intelligence and sensibilities of the public, we can’t address this without addressing the anti-intellectualism being presented as intellectualism and faux science being presented as real science.

While beauty and the perceptions to beauty has been studied before, in the context of how people react to beauty versus those not deemed beautiful (life chances, job hires, date encounters, marriages, etc.), this study seeks to stratify beauty in a racial context, and specifically justify its premise and its outcome as to why are black women “less attractive” than white or Asian women. Studies like this have a history rooted in cultural ignorance and racism. But there is something to be read into this. Pseudo science always an end game.

Kanazawa’s racial categorizations, which excludes Latin women and includes Native American women, seeks to analyze aspects of physical attractiveness to support his study’s conclusions. Race is a social construct formulated out of dominant cultural norms and preferences. Beauty is also a subjective social construct based on dominant cultural norms and preferences. In America, Eurocentric values have always dominated social norms and preferences. Africans who have come to America, and those of African lineage born in America have always been subjected to artificial standards of beauty that sought to juxtapose them against distorted imagery to contrast black and white social acceptance. The distortion of African Americans imagery in American society was might to exclude them from the social mainstream. Anatomical and genealogical studies were done in the 19th and 20th Century to justify keeping blacks in a subordinated socio-economic standing. We are well acquainted with the Social Darwinism of the 19th Century that sought to racialize anatomy and the Bell Curve studies of the 20th Century that sought to racialize intelligence, both subtle and not so subtle attempts to justify racial stigmatization of Blacks. While racism has always been economic, social stigmatization was the most effective way of mainstreaming popular thought around subjectively held views.

No matter what stage of American history we’ve reached, black or “exotic” beauty has been a norm. Pre-slavery, during slavery, post slavery, the beauty of black women and the allure that black women have on all men, is unquestioned. Black women have always set a high standard for beauty and played a key role in evolving fashion. What is attractive has no contradiction, and distinctions of beauty are according to personal preference. Comparative beauty has no standing, as it is a relative truth depending on the “eye of the holder.”  However, to try to aggregate beauty and say that black women in the aggregate as less attractive than any other group of women is fake science and a distortion of the greatest measure. Or as the late African American feminist UC Berkeley scholar, Barbara Christian once stated in the documentary, Ethnic Notions, “the continuing distortion of the black image not only becomes laughable, but grotesque.” This attempt to reframe beauty through some new global “academic” lense is not only laughable, but grotesque, as the subjects of Kanazawa’s study are essentially a less preferred reflection of his own distorted world view. He thinks Black women are less attractive and seeks to pass it off as science. Kanazawa also wrote a “study” entitled, “Beautiful People Are REALLY More Intelligent.” Ironically, in Kanazawa’s study, the women with the highest beauty ratings are Asians. So, you see where this is going on here, and a case could be made that fake science is being used to justify a shift in beauty norms, in terms of the construction of Asian beauty and emergence of China as a dominant cultural influence. So, instead of Kanazawa having to justify a less plausible conclusion of why his study sees Asian women more beautiful than all other women (an equally extremely outrageous assertion—can you imagine a study entitled “Asian Women More Attractive Than All Other Women” and how quickly and easily that would have be debunked?), he simply has to defend a less concrete conclusion as to why black women are less attractive. Neither is a defensible conclusion because of the subjectivity and relativism of both the observer and the observed. His data is not presented, nor does he present a hypothesis that is tested. It’s a survey that’s easy to pass off on a dumbed down society that uses Wikipedia and internet blurbs as the basis for their knowledge. Kanazawa’s study is called junk science in academic circles, and Psychology Today should have never allowed it to be posted as a scientific study.

Pseudo race studies only seek to justify or substantiate a position in the construct to either elevate one segment, or denigrate another segment. That’s the reason for them. This is just the 21st Century version of social Darwinism. There is no greater stratification of beauty than that presented by black women. I don’t need a study to say that, or science to prove. Like Kanazawa’s study, it’s a relative truth that no one can really refute.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.