One manifestation of white supremacy is the use of whiteness as the standard of beauty. When whiteness is considered superior, white people are considered more attractive by definition and, insofar as the appearance of people of other races deviates from that standard, they are considered ugly.
Non-white people are still allowed to be considered beautiful, of course, as long as they look like white people.
This collection of images is a nice illustration of the way in which black women, in particular, are expected to look white in order to qualify as beautiful. The images are powerful because the black models look almost identical to the white models, but also because they are ads for make-up. So the ads are literally selling beauty.
This is Flashback Friday, so these are ads I collected and posted in 2008. Have things changed or stayed the same? Or, am I being unfair? Most white women do not look like these women either. And the women of color in the images are, in fact, women of color. Who am I to say they don’t look “black”? Is there something else going on here? I’m happy for the conversation.
In case you were wondering, race is still important in the U.S., including in American sports. Deadspin put out a neat tool just in time for NFL draft weekend, allowing readers to see for themselves just how often different words are used to describe white and black athletes in draft scouting reports. It turns out, for example, that a black prospect’s report is more likely to mention his “motor,” while the typical white player is more likely to be called a “worker.” “Freakish” shows up five times in black reports, and never in a white player’s. Black players are also more likely to be called “coachable.”
I downloaded the data to find out just what the “blackest” and “whitest’ words were. I then drew out the 50 words most likely associated with black and white athletes, respectively. The words are all vaguely football-ish, but upon reflection distinctive patterns emerge.
Some words leap out immediately. Reports on black athletes are far more likely to include the word “mother.” Conversely, white athletes’ reports mention “brothers” more often. Black players’ reports more often include “driving”; reports on white athletes mention “drive.”
Dig a bit deeper, and some groupings appear. I created five rough categories for the most common “black” words, and another four for the most common white words:
I was quite surprised just how pervasive the old tropes of the smart white leader athletes, and the talent and physical black athletes remain. The word “accuracy” is more than twelve times more likely to be associated with a white player than his black counterpart. Likewise, the words “understands,”(3.9 times) “intelligence” (3.0 times), and the sneaky “intangibles” (3.9 times) are all far more likely to be associated with white athletes.
Conversely, reports on black athletes are more likely to include “leaping” (6.3 times), “upright” (10.4 times), and “violent” (5.1 times). They comparatively rarely include words associated with quarterbacking, intelligence, or leadership.
What the numbers can’t tell us is how much of the difference can be ascribed to the scouts themselves allowing biases to creep in, and how much reflects ways in which athletes have been shaped to this point (i.e., coached to be violent, encouraged to become leaders, etc). This is obviously an important question, but either way it is clear that race remains a hugely important filter affecting life chances, even in something as supposedly meritocratic as professional and near-professional sports.
If whiteness is the neutral category — meaning that people of color are commonly understood to be raced while white people are not — then to be non-white is to be different in some way. The “bad” difference is the deviant (for example, the “welfare queen,” the “thug”), while the “good” difference is the exotic, the interesting, the hip, the cool… the hot or spicy. Whiteness, in contrast, is boring, bland, or “vanilla.”
This two-page advertisement for Crystal Light beautifully illustrates these cultural ideas. Notice the way the ad goes from black-and-white to color, from a white model to a model of color (but not too dark-skinned), from straight to curly (but not too curly) hair, from a rather plain dress to one that looks vaguely ethnic, and from awkward standing to dancing (of course). In the ad, whiteness is, quite literally, bland and being of color is framed as more flavorful.
Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the National Guard in Georgia has always plaited her hair into two twists around her head. She has been in the military for six years and has worn her hair natural (meaning no chemical treatments [perms] or hair extensions [weaves]) for four of those years. But according to the new hair-grooming requirements the U.S. Army recently released, her hair is now out of regulation.
And so are the Afro-centric hairstyles of many black women in the Army, who make up 31 percent of Army women.
Jacobs, who said she is “kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair,” has started a White House petition asking the Army to rethink its new hair guidelines. The petition has collected more than 7,000 signatures from soldiers and civilians, but needs to reach 100,000 signatures by April 19th in order for the White House to address it.
Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair… These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent.
The new Army Regulation 670-1 was published Tuesday and illustrates with photos the types of hairstyles that are unauthorized for women. Those include dreadlocks, twists or any type of matted or coiled hair. A particularly cumbersome requirement disallows the bulk of a woman’s hair to “exceed more than 2″ from her scalp.” That rules out Afros and most types of non-chemically altered black hair.
Basically, almost every natural hair option that black women in the Army could wear is now off limits. One of the few traditionally natural hairstyles that was listed as appropriate is cornrows, but a slew of specifications and rules surrounded even that. The diameter of each cornrow can’t be more than one-fourth of an inch, and no more than one-eighth of an inch of scalp may be shown between cornrows.
The only way to realistically meet the new standards would be to shave one’s head, perm one’s hair or wear weaves or wigs.
Jacobs said twists like the one she wears are very popular among black women soldiers because the style requires little maintenance when in the field. Her hair’s thickness and curliness makes pulling her hair back into a bun (a style popular among white women soldiers) impossible.
A spokesperson for the Army said the grooming changes are “necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.” When that need for “uniformity” erases the ethnic differences of a group of women and forces them to constrain themselves to European standards of hair, it presents a serious problem.
“I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair… I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all,” said Jacobs.
Behold, one of my favorite things on SocImages. This pair of Italian commercials are for a do-it-yourself fabric dye. First, commercial #1 (no Italian needed):
Message: “Coloured is better” or black men are physically and sexually superior to white men.
BUT WAIT! Wait till you see the twist in commercial #2!
When the man tries to use the dye to transform his wife, it becomes clear that the dye only works one way. Clearly, it is designed for women to produce the (heteronormative, racialized) object of desire that they supposedly want. Message: Coloreria is “What women want” or the laundry room is for ladies.
Ed, at Gin & Tacos, made a fantastic observation about this photo of a 1960 lunch counter sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC, protesting the exclusion of black customers.
“The most interesting thing about it,” he writes:
…is that the employee behind the Whites Only lunch counter is also black. That’s curious, since on the scale of intimate social contact one would think that having someone handle your food ranks above sitting next to a fully clothed stranger on adjacent stools.
This, he observes, tells us something important about prejudice.
When I first saw this picture and learned about this period in our history… I thought that racism was about believing that another race is inferior. Like most people I got (slightly) wiser with age and eventually figured out that racism is about keeping someone else beneath you on the social ladder… If you actually thought black people were dirty savages you wouldn’t eat anything they handed you. But of course it has nothing to do with that. You’re fine being served food because servility implies social inferiority. And you don’t want to sit next to them simply because it implies equality.
When we observe efforts to uphold unequal social conditions, it’s smart to think past notions of hatred and fear (like the term homophobia unfortunately implies) and instead about how the privileged are benefiting and what they would lose along with their superordinate status. Hate may be useful for justifying inequality, but at its root it’s about power and resources, not emotions.
Last month I wrote about how the revival in the popularity of beards was hurting razor sales, causing companies like Proctor & Gamble to ramp up advertising encouraging “manscaping” below the neck. Here’s another response to the trend: hair plugs for your face.
According to a facial plastic surgeon interviewed for an article at DNAinfo New York, the rate at which he is asked to do facial hair transplants has skyrocketed from ” just a handful of beard transplants each year a decade ago” to about three a week. The surgeons mention the hipster beard trend as one cause of the rise in interest, but also cite a wide array of people who might be interested in fuller facial hair:
…clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow a beard, those undergoing a gender transition from female to male, men with with facial scarring and Hasidic Jews who hope to achieve denser payot, or sidelocks.
Expense for the procedure ranges from $3,o00 for partial transplants to $7,000 for a full beard.
What a fascinating example of the intersection of race, gender, religion, technology, and capitalism. Which men’s faces have more power to determine appearance norms for men? Or, what does masculinity look like? Men with Asian, American Indian, and African backgrounds are less likely to be able to grow full beards, but a society centered on whiteness can make their faces seem inadequate. If the situation were reversed, would we see white men, disproportionately, going in for laser hair removal? Would transmen feel less pressure to be able to grow a beard to feel fully masculine? Would they feel more if they were part of a Hasidic Jewish community?
Also, is this really about hipsters? How much power does a young, monied demographic have to set fashion trends? To send a wide range of people to surgeons — for goodness sake — in the hopes of living up to a more or less fleeting trend? How do such trends gain purchase across such a wide range of people? What other forces are at work here?