Melissa H.J., Lizzy F., Dmitriy T.M., Kari B., Kalani R., Lisa C., and Anna C. all sent us links about the recent blog post at Psychology Today that many of you have probably already heard about, since it caused quite the outcry. The article, by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, apparently went through multiple title revisions, starting out as “Black Women Are Ugly,” changing to “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”, and eventually becoming “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?”, before being removed from the Psychology Today website altogether. However, as we know, nothing on the internet is ever really gone, and images of the original post are widely available. I’m using one from BuzzFeed.
Kanazawa apparently specializes in claiming that there are clear, definite, “objective” differences in attractiveness (and also intelligence, and also everything else important) between different races. Also, you can tell who is a criminal and who isn’t just by the way they look (an article illustrated with an image of O.J. Simpson) and, as an added bonus, “virtually all ‘stereotypes’ are empirically true”. We know this is objective because there are graph-y science things, with numbers:
To summarize his point: Women are more attractive than men. And when
one of his Add Health interviewers measures a study participant’s attractiveness on a 5-point scale, this is “objective.” Because they are researchers, and therefore anything they say is objective. And according to objective measurements, Black women aren’t attractive at all. In fact, they’re “far less attractive” than other groups of women. See?
It turns out White women are most attractive. Man! Who would have thought?
There are a lot of other gems, such as the fact that Black women, though objectively less attractive, bizarrely rate themselves subjectively more attractive. It’s like they don’t know they’re ugly!
I’m sick of this article and will leave it to you to click over and read the whole thing if you feel so inclined. Let’s just summarize some of the major issues, and then all move on with our lives:
First, he treats race like a real, biological, meaningful entity. But race is socially constructed; there is no clear biological dividing line that would allow us to put every person on the planet into racial categories, since societies differ in the racial categories they recognize and “race” doesn’t map along unique sets of genes — there is more genetic variation among members of a so-called race as there are between members of different races.
Aside from that, the idea of measuring beauty objectively, completely separated from all cultural influence, is problematic, especially when you start looking at differences by race/ethnicity. In The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, Deborah Rhode discusses how perceptions of attractiveness have varied over time and across cultures and discusses the global history of slavery, colonialism, and race-based systems of domination that make it impossible to separate out our perceptions of what is beautiful and sexually appealing from historical ideologies that insisted that non-White peoples were unattractive (unless in an exotic way, when that was useful, and also, the Irish were hideous despite being European). Joane Nagel’s book Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersection, Forbidden Frontiers is another good source on this topic.
It is simply impossible to separate out even scientists’ ratings of attractiveness from the cultural context, one in which supposedly “Caucasian” features and light skin are repeatedly held up as the ideal of attractiveness (so even famous non-White people often find themselves lightened in media images) while dark skinned people are constructed as unattractive or even scary.
Given that history, it’s not shocking that White women would be rated most attractive and Black women least. What’s shocking is that a scholar at the London School of Economics would think you could uncritically accept those rankings as proof of objective reality, rather than the outcome of constant, long-standing cultural messages about attractiveness that resulted from efforts to legitimize and justify social and political inequalities.
UPDATE: Reader JA provided a link to another post at Psychology Today in which researchers looked at the data Kanazawa used and question his analysis and results.
UPDATE 2: The comments section has largely devolved into a flame war with lots of insults flying around, so I’m closing comments since I won’t be around to moderate them for the next week. I will go in and clean out the comments threads when I get a chance.
ja — May 31, 2011
Just to be clear, the phrase "one of his interviewers" isn't entirely accurate. This post actually came from secondary analysis he did of variables from the (extremely widely used) Add Health study.
It's also worth pointing out that some other folks tried to re-run his analyses using the data in a way they deem more consistent with how the analyses should have been conducted in the first place and don't arrive at the same conclusions he did: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201105/black-women-are-not-rated-less-attractive-our-independent-analysis-the-a .
Jolie — May 31, 2011
What I find seriously problematic (among other things) is that the data analysis treats people as if they were belonging to strictly one race- which does not make any sense- since we're all more or less mixed-raced
Leta — May 31, 2011
What a bunch of crazy ramblings! The notion of beauty very much depends on the culture, to the extent that something considered beautiful in one culture can be a hideous deformity in another.
Yes, I suppose there are objective differences between races, but the definition of attractiveness is VERY relative.
Madeleine — May 31, 2011
Race is a real, biological, meaningful entity. There are some genetic diseases which are predominantly found in some genetically related groups.
- Sickle-cell trait & disease is found in African Americans and has its highest prevalence in west Africa.
- Particular diseases including Cystic Fibrosis and Tay Sachs are so concentrated in Ashkenazi Jews that genetic screening is very common in Ashkenazi couples.
- Factor V Leiden, which contributes to deep vein thrombosis (that thing people worry about on long plane flights) is found in 5% of caucasians but is extremely rare in asians.
Sure, race is not distinct, it just corresponds to some prevalences of genetic variants that happen to be more common in one population vs. another, and many people are a mixture of ancestries. The colors of the rainbow are not distinct either, but we give them names. The analogy with colors goes farther -- we don't stick to a definition based on a single wavelength, we call things green that are actually a mixture of pure blue and pure yellow. I agree that race is subject to abuse and deeply flawed pseudo-scientific misuse, but to claim that "race" is not biologically meaningful is as ridiculous as claiming "colors" are not a meaningful concept.
Vinny — May 31, 2011
I went to the site, "Criminals Look Different from Noncriminals" and I looked at the faces that are supposedly easy to identify as being criminal or non criminal... I wasn't able to tell which ones were and which ones weren't, and it makes me wonder how supposedly their research volunteers were able to tell. Things like this make me distrust a lot of current popular science studies.
. — May 31, 2011
Screw the pseudoscientists
syd — May 31, 2011
So, in a presumably Western pool, people SUBJECTIVELY rated black women lower, so that means black women are OBJECTIVELY ugly, and has nothing to do with the fact that the Western world (and a good portion of the rest of the world), through the media, forces that idea down people's throats daily?
This man shouldn't have been able to pass psychology statistics in undergrad, much less be published.
polatucha — May 31, 2011
Amusing how Psychology Today-site that carries the article linked in the end of your entry features an ad of some dating website with a text "Date Hot Women". The woman in the picture, unnecessary to note, is of course white and skinny.
blanca — May 31, 2011
and kanazawa is about to be fired (if he wasn't already) http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/05/fire_kanazawa.html
Harlequin — May 31, 2011
And even if we ignore the part where other researchers can't duplicate his analysis, the results for Black women aren't as disparate as he would have you believe--drawing solid bars from the mean emphasizes the difference, as does his placement of the different groups. If you move the data point for Black women to the end of the chart there's a clear downward trend away from the White women, and the difference between the Black women and Native American women is less than 2 sigma. So even his OWN data barely confirm his result.
(Also, his article includes the claim that by using factor analysis, he can get rid of ALL RANDOM ERROR!)
DeepThoughts — May 31, 2011
Does anyone know Satoshi Kanazawa's qualifications? I believe I read somewhere he had absolutely no training in biology, and maybe had a degree in economics.
Aoirthoir — May 31, 2011
"and also, the Irish were hideous despite being European"
Uh no. The Irish were not considered European. This idea that we are European is a relatively recent development. We were always considered different.
Unamused — May 31, 2011
For anyone not keeping up with this (rather pathetic and off-topic) debate about race differences in intelligence, or just race differences period: my opponents are unable to cite even one source to back up their opinions about race differences in intelligence. There are also unwilling to read and understand my sources (see above).
Instead, they use insults ("troll," "white supremacist"), accusations of "racism" (a word which is now meaningless, thanks to people like them), outright lies (like the claim that I haven't cited my sources), unsubstantiated assertions (everywhere), appeals to emotion, appeals to popularity, and of course their perfect ignorance of intelligence research.
Don't be fooled.
Please ask yourself: why would two reproductively isolated populations of an animal species, evolving independently for tens of thousands of years, subject to all the usual natural forces (founder effects, genetic drift, random mutations, and adaptation), somehow come out with
(a) different skin and hair,
(b) different bone structure,
(c) different blood antibodies,
(d) different disease susceptibilities,
(e) different athletic strengths and weaknesses (watch the Olympics), and yet
(f) IDENTICAL BRAINS?
Evolution does not stop at the neck. And science is not concerned with your hurt feelings nor with your "progressive" politics.
Lori — May 31, 2011
I am not surprised that this was written by a Japanese. The general discourse on race in Japan is ... stunning ... to say the least.
Sofia — May 31, 2011
So far I haven't seen a single person respond to what Unamused is saying in a logically coherent manner. Just sayin'.
Taylor — May 31, 2011
Please See Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Men" and his somewhat more recent critique (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~chance/course/topics/curveball.html) of Hernstein and Murray's book "The Bell Curve" which makes similar arguments as Unamused. One of the most interesting points of Gould's critique concerning the supposed link between intelligence and race, is that Alfred Binet, the original author of the IQ test (one, if not the most common test of intelligence) rejected the notion that the test could determine a link between heredity and intelligence.
Also, see Abby Ferber's "White Men Falling: Race, Gender, and White Supremacy and Howard Taylor's "Defining Race," both of whom address race and genetics.
John Hensley — May 31, 2011
Kanazawa's article on criminality cannot be appreciated without knowing the history of Lombroso's "Criminal Man", a book that introduced the concept of the "criminal look" in the modern era at least. It was debunked around the beginning of the 20th century but that hasn't kept it from cropping up again and again and again, most recently in US terrorist profiling workshops.
John Hensley — June 1, 2011
Looking at the photographs that Kanazawa provides, I would say that his and Valla's idea of a "neutral expression" is an odd one -- except for someone in denial about the whole phenomenon of class experience, which goes hand-in-hand with racism. So is his choice of O.J. Simpson as a diversified criminal, given that the judgement for Simpson's first violation contributed to the circumstances for the others. The same is true of more desperate repeat offenders.
AlekNovy — June 1, 2011
Didn't OKCupid confirm these findings as well from a much larger sample size?
pg — June 1, 2011
Racists attract other racists, and complaining about racist "research" sure does bring out the racist trolls!
Sofia — June 1, 2011
I'd just like to note commenter Unamused has been banned, because apparently calling someone a "neckbeard", "illiterate ass", "white supremacist" is somehow allowable discourse while providing cited proof that there are differences in race (and gender) is not. Can't any one of you take note of that hypocrisy? Or three cheers for censorship because you won't then have to defend or question your views?
Sofia — June 1, 2011
I can' respond to you above. Freakonomics addressed the factors that seem to positively correlate with having a high IQ. Economists seem to be the best people to assess that data in a meaningful way.
I technically live in poverty. I'm also not a criminal, and I'm fairly smart. So, you're right, poverty doesn't account for the cycle of crime. That's why I assume it's intelligence more than anything.
Alix — June 1, 2011
People who are insecure about their own intelligence/beauty/other factor always seem to want to demonstrate that some other group is inferior.
Attractiveness varies from culture to culture and has also varied over time. Intelligence tests give an indication of a person's previous ability to learn and some indication of ability to solve problems, but the tests are also culturally biased.
I've known quite a few people who didn't do so well on IQ tests who've managed to do very well in life and/or college, as well as some people who scored well on IQ tests who are floundering (as well as the converse for both). IQ may predict, but it is not infallible; because it is not infallible, it is flawed to use it as your only measure of intelligence.
I've never really been sure why some people are so intent on proving that their group is *superior* to other groups (especially when those groups are more of a continuum than an actual delineated group). Life isn't a football game. We all benefit if we are all appreciated for our contributions, and our strengths are utilized appropriately. By writing off an entire group, we are ALL weakened.
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[...] Hate Battalion Delta (HBD or “The Fighting Sofias”) crossed into Images-controlled Race-Differences-in-Attractiveness Valley, where they encountered elements of the 2nd Diverse Minority Battalion, attached to the 4th [...]
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Get Satoshi Kanazawa out of LSE and off Psychology Today « tenderhooligan — July 28, 2011
[...] if you’re interesting in reading one anyway, you can find an interesting post here on Sociological Images.) Since then, change.org, a petition site, started a petition demanding that Psychology Today stops [...]
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