In the name of science

Black is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Black is beautiful. That’s mantra many people of colour have been chanting this past week, particularly across the United States.

The attempt at affirmation comes in the wake of the publication of a so-called scientific study “Why are African American Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”

Psychology Today published the “research,” by evolutionary scientist Satoshi Kanazawa. But swift public outcry caused the publication to first, soften the headline to “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?” Finally, and in short order, the article was pulled.

By then, the damage had been done.

Many people who have been working tirelessly to inculcate self-esteem into black women of all ages reacted. They said the so-called research, which asked random people to rate random pollsters on attractiveness without taking in cultural and conventional definition of beauty, was another stone flung at black women who have stored up a considerable heap.

There were also questions asked of the researcher and Psychology Today, about why the former felt the need to justify what is seen as racism, and why no one on the editorial team saw the racism implied in the article, and the backlash and damage it had the potential to cause.

In the end, Psychology Today did not apologise as much as it rationalised. The editor told US radio station NPR: “Our bloggers are credential(ed) social scientists and for this reason they are invited to post to the site on topics of their choosing. We in turn reserve the right to remove posts for any number of reasons. Because the post was not commissioned or solicited by PT (in contrast to a magazine article), there was no editorial intent to address questions of race and physical attractiveness.”

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that the London School of Economics, while saying lecturers have academic freedom, is investigating Kanazawa in the wake of the row. The probe comes as the University of London’s students’ union lobbies for his firing.

Some might say that people should take with a grain of salt anything published under whatever guise, by a person who also offered to academia “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?” and What’s Wrong With Muslims?”

But when one race of women have been prodded and probed and stereotyped through the ages, there comes a time when a straw can break a camel’s back.

Included in the so-called studies over the years are conclusions on why black women are unmarried; why black men are choosing women of other races, why black women are aggressive, and the list goes on.

In his study, Kanazawa used the hypothesis that Black women’s lack of appeal was due to weight. But he dismissed that and said because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races.

He finally concluded that the lack of attractiveness is because African women have higher levels of testosterone than other races and therefore have more masculine features.

Not incidentally, while Black women scored lowest in the ratings, Asian women scored the highest. The researcher is Asian.

All studies like these do is serve to deepen divisions among black people, and in this case black women.

There is already the deep rooted issues with dark vs light, as evidenced by the skin bleaching phenomena, and the good hair vs bad hair, which manifests itself in weaves and the like.

Popular idiom says beautiful is in the eye of the beholder, and that is true. But when the dominant defines beauty as something black women are not, and when this is internalised by people of all races and reportedly reinforced by science, the time is right for a movement of people to stand up the whipping posts.

Those wont to dismiss this latest controversy and the outcry as a tempest in a teacup should consider how black women have been portrayed over the years in pop culture.

LZ Granderson, an ESPN writer and CNN contributor, wrote in response: “It’s challenging enough to see popular culture publications such as People and Maxim struggle to include black women in their annual most-beautiful listings, but at least their editors don’t try to justify their choices under the guise of science.”

What the article proves, is that even as some people try to say contrary, race and looks matter.

And what also matters is self-esteem.

Our geographical location outside of the United States were the row is raging and our status as a nation where the majority is black doesn’t exempt our black women and black girls from the slings and arrows of outrageous conclusions.

Having internalised so many over the years, we encourage all of those in the forefront of building the self-esteem of young black girls to continue doing so. Given all of the so-called studies that tear them down, they need strong constitutions because they will grow to learn that it is not an easy road.

In the meantime, our best advice is for people to start defining themselves. We’ll give you the opening: Black is … now fill in the blanks.