CNN Op Ed: “Black Women Ugly? Says Who?” & Consequences Of The Study

CNN Op Ed: “Black Women Ugly? Says Who?” & Consequences Of The Study

So… this appeared on my radar last night:

In a couple of weeks my mother turns 65.She takes yoga and Zumba every chance she gets and if you sneeze more than twice around her, she’ll cook you a pot of collard greens. My mother believes her collard greens can fix just about anything.

She has a fiery personality that can rub people the wrong way. But those who know her don’t mind, because it was that same fire that helped her overcome poverty, beat cancer and protect her five cubs.

My mother is a black woman.

And she is beautiful.

So to the editors of Psychology Today who thought it was a good idea to post a blog item calling black women ugly, I suggest you watch your back… my mother’s cubs are looking for you.

And we are not happy.

Satoshi Kanazawa’s post, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” appeared Sunday and quickly circulated around the blogosphere. It drew a great deal of criticism, which I suspect led to the post being pulled, though you can still find it elsewhere on the Web.

While it’s not quite as bad as Golfweek magazine putting a noose on its cover in relationship to a story about Tiger Woods, it is still rather disturbing that Psychology Today’s editors needed public outcry to clue them in that the post was offensive and irresponsible.

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.

“Because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races,” Kanazawa’s post read. “And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness.”

I do not dispute Kanazawa’s credentials as an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, but I do wonder why he even approached the topic.

I question a methodology that asks random people to judge the attractiveness of other random people without taking into account the influence of background and culture. Without taking into account a Westernized standard of beauty that has not only haunted some black women into buying cream to bleach their skin but prompted some Asian-Americans to undergo surgery to make their eyes more European looking.

That’s not to say white skin or round eyes are necessarily unattractive. Rather, a system that declares one set of physical attributes as the standard to which a multiethnic society must adhere is destructive.

And racist.

And yet as much as I detest Kanazawa’s post, I do recognize it as just another chapter in the ongoing assault on black women in our culture.

He says they’re ugly.

The statistics say 42% have never been married.

Some rappers say, well, we know what they say… and apparently we don’t mind, because they keep topping the charts.

If you comb through Donald Bogle’s book “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films,” you’ll find a long celluloid history of black women being portrayed as anything but beautiful. Their sass is a constant source of comedic relief, but rarely are they seen as complete human beings, to be romanced or capable of being vulnerable.

Nowadays the most popular black female characters in film are not even played by black women. Tyler Perry’s “Madea” and Martin Lawrence’s “Big Momma” characters are unflattering caricatures of figureheads who for generations on top of generations held the black community together.

Funny, maybe.

Fair, definitely not.

His write-up continues on the CNN website, and is worth you clicking over to check it out, if for no other reason than to make sure he and his post get credit for bringing CNN that kind of traffic. Maybe they’ll see it’s worth posting uplifting commentary about Black women. Giant hugs go out to Granderson for using his platform to get this message out (and if only he could manage to also moderate those comments, but I digress.)

I’ve no desire to get into a “woe is me” parade, here, but the perception of Black women is affected by a lot of things… all of which make it difficult for us to exist the way we want in our day to day lives. We are always assumed to be the “lowest common denominator” (do we automatically assume every white woman is a single parent, poor, and moves her head and neck around like crazy whenever she’s upset?), always assumed to be promiscuous, and must always be “strong like bull.” We can’t be who we are – or work toward being who we aspire to be – without being told that there are reasons to focus elsewhere. We can’t even walk down the street in peace, in most cases.

It’s difficult to be us, but we still do it. And according to that faux-study – the only thing that was interesting to me about the entire “study” – we still think highly of ourselves despite it all.

I saw someone comment on the study and state that “we” – meaning Black women – are the only ones who continue to consume media that denigrates us. I disagree. We’re denigrated as women – something we share with all women, and that plight shouldn’t be minimized – and then we’re devalued as Blacks, something we share with all minorities, regardless of race. And we all still consume this media because many of us still feel like we have no other choice. I’ve always felt like the problem isn’t, so to speak, the consumption of media. The problem is what we do with what we’ve consumed.

Something awesome happened the other day. We all consumed, so to speak, the horrific post by Kanazawa, and what did we do with that? We complained. We wrote letters. We tweeted (twote?) about it and called it to the attention of others. We e-mailed our contacts. We shared with our peers – Black, white, Latina/o and otherwise – what foolishness was passing for science, and we built up among our collectives a very strong stance that we wouldn’t tolerate this from outlets to whom we extend credibility. If Psychology Today were going to maintain its credibility and respect, it would need to address this matter.

Needless to say, all that tweeting, facebooking, emailing and whatever else (carrier pigeon?) we were doing got the attention of the right people. Sent to me this morning by @YoungFlynMommy:

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa stooped to new levels of awfulness in his post claiming “black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races.” His racist remarks could cost him his job at the London School of Economics.According to the Guardian, many LSE students lodged complaints after Kanazawa’s offensive post made the rounds. Said Sherelle Davids of the LSE students’ union, “Kanazawa deliberately manipulates findings that justify racist ideology. As a black woman I feel his conclusions are a direct attack on black women everywhere who are not included in social ideas of beauty.” And Amena Amer, the union’s incoming education officer, said,

We support free speech and academic freedom, but Kanazawa’s research fuels hate against ethnic and religious minorities promoted by neo-Nazi groups. Not only does he use the LSE’s credentials to legitimise his ‘research’ but this jeopardises the academic credibility of the LSE.

The union has voted unanimously that Kanazawa should be fired. Now the school has launched an internal investigation that will evaluate his claims and decide whether to punish him. They’ve already issued a public statement saying he doesn’t speak for the LSE: “The views expressed by this academic are his own and do not in any way represent those of the LSE as an institution.”

Amer is correct that Kanazawa’s comments are an embarrassment to her school. Even if his views are his own, as long as they continue to employ him, they’re implicitly vouching for his merit as a scholar. And unless they’re prepared to say that his bar graphs about black women’s supposed ugliness are actually good science, it’s time for them to let him go. [source]

So no… the problem isn’t consuming the media. The problem is choosing to do nothing about it. We did something about it… and not only did we send a message to Kanazawa that his poor standards are a problem; not only did we send a message to evolutionary psychologists everywhere that a social construct – like beauty – cannot be explained through genetics; not only did we send a message to racists everywhere that their imperceptive attempts to sneak in racist “studies” will always be sniffed out and justice will be metted out for it; not only did we all speak out against such foolishness together?

There was an outpouring of reminders that there is love and support for Black women out there. We just have to be more judicious in surrounding ourselves with it.

By | 2014-05-22T14:14:38+00:00 May 22nd, 2014|The Op-Eds|26 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Eva May 20, 2011 at 11:53 AM - Reply

    I think before any person calls another person ugly, they need to take a long look in their own mirror.

  2. Michelle of Chellbellz May 20, 2011 at 12:42 PM - Reply

    I was afraid to read that post circulating…and I still don’t want to. I’m the type whos heart wil burst through there chest at something so ignorant. We as black can’t win. The media painted us as Undatable, not worry or marriage, and so much other BS in the past few years, then to have this man write this! Blacks are the only one with mutations? First off mutations as in what? I’m a nursing major so i’m just trying to figure that out? Humans in general are full of different genes that make them beautiful period! I can’t even finish my rant, because I’m getting angry at this mans ignorance.

    • oekmama February 6, 2012 at 7:19 AM - Reply

      I’ve read it, and believe me, you’re not missing anything. Even a layperson like me (with a healthy amount os scepticism) could poke holes in his research design. If you do sociological research in your course of study, you might find it interesting as an example of how not to conduct research.

      There have been lots of rebuttals (eg. on Psychology Today) to this guy’s “study”… which are more interesting to read.

  3. Daphne May 20, 2011 at 1:49 PM - Reply

    I’m glad that there is an internal investigation into Kanazawa.

    That said, what I appreciated best is a large point of the response was the protest that he basically took his opinion and tried to make it scientific (which was my biggest issue). There will always be racists, always be those who don’t find black women attractive, so that wasn’t my issue with the OP.

    It was the critical thinking aspect of the protest that was key, since I think part of racist (or at minimum prejudiced) assumptions of blacks, black women in particular, is that we primarily react out of emotion (as in, we’re upset ONLY because the OP was racist). But no, we’re intelligent enough to knock down specious arguments as well.

  4. candiew May 20, 2011 at 2:38 PM - Reply

    Well, whatever. This guy has issues, and it could be a variety of them; he has issues with women, he might be struggling with his sexuality, he’s obviously racist (he apparently has a history of written inflammatory stuff about Muslims, women, etc.) and like most people these days, he’s just trying to get his 15 minutes of fame by raising everyone’s hackles. But he is clearly mental, and the LSE and PT might suffer a few hits to their credibility for associating with this fool.

    But let’s face it, this is black people we’re talking about here. No one really “cares”. We all know that if he had directed this BS toward Jewish women, then it would be on! He would have been FIRED, no questions or explanations needed. LSE would have done what the House of Dior did to John Galliano when he got drunk at a Paris restaurant and went off on a couple of Jewish women, spewing Anti-semtic vitrol and like everything else, it went viral. They had no choice but to disassociate themselves from that fool, for fear of losing their wealthy Jewish clients. There was no “discussion” about ‘his future at Dior” or words to that effect, or questions about his employment. Galliano was Dior and HUGE in the fashion world, so they could have done some damage control spin and sent him off to counseling and re-hab. Nope! They threw him under the bus and kicked his butt out the door! Just like that. Why?

    Because the Jewish community is powerful, wealthy and highly influential. They are a proud community that sticks together when they are being attacked, not matter what. (I’ve had quite a few Jewish boyfriends to know this firsthand) If this idiot at LSE had directed his inaccurate and totally racist junk toward Jews, then LSE would have been faced with losing their funding from patrons and benefactors, the PT editor’s job would have been on the line for publishing that mess without having properly vetted for fact; this guy would be GONE! Heads would be rolling or at least hanging by a thread. We all know this.

    I wonder how many black intellectuals where among those who have complained? How many black MALE intellectuals have come to our defense? Have we heard from NAACP and other organizations yet?

    I wonder….

    • Zee May 20, 2011 at 4:27 PM - Reply

      @candiew, I’m bound to agree with you on the guy dealing with psychological issues, being mental and wanting to raise everyone’s hackles. I’ve read some of the other stuff he’s written, and I get the distinct impression that somewhere in that irresponsible drivel is a cry for help. What I honestly don’t understand is why they keep giving him a forum to say his piece, even when he sounds like some seriously insecure kid pretending at being a researcher.

    • Anonymous May 20, 2011 at 11:38 PM - Reply

      I’m an Asian female and I know what you mean. When Miley got that pic taken of her making those eyes, people said things like Get over it. When Rosie O’Donnell made “asian noises” her apology was something like “I’m sorry I reminded Asians of being made fun of in the playground”
      Its usually just not taken nearly as seriously.
      Funnily enough, Karl Lagerfeld totally dissed Galliano after that…after he had yellowface on his own campaign-faux Asian eyes and accent and all, and said that he was just “celebrating” yellowface in movies.

    • Shermy May 23, 2011 at 10:06 AM - Reply

      @candiew I COMPLETELY agree with you!!!!!

  5. Deb May 20, 2011 at 5:44 PM - Reply

    “We’re denigrated as women – something we share with all women, and that plight shouldn’t be minimized – and then we’re devalued as Blacks, something we share with all minorities, regardless of race. And we all still consume this media because many of us still feel like we have no other choice. I’ve always felt like the problem isn’t, so to speak, the consumption of media. The problem is what we do with what we’ve consumed.”

    This right here. Taking in a steady diet of what the “mainstream media” puts out can drive a person totally crazy. Pushing back against this type of nonsense is much more constructive than internalizing it and being consumed by anger and frustration.

  6. Lorne Marr May 22, 2011 at 9:26 AM - Reply

    There have been other surveys like this one according to which Chinese and Japanese men are at the bottom of the male physical attractiveness level. I think we shouldn’t react to such statements at all since beauty is a subjective concept and people’s opinions about it are different too.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall May 22, 2011 at 10:42 AM - Reply

      Again, I disagree. This wasn’t a “subjective” study. This was a “let’s try to explain this subjective concept with talk of genetic mutations, obesity, NATURAL lack of intelligence and overall unattractiveness.” The context and nature of the study and what it sought out to prove made a difference. It wasn’t simply about the subjective nature of beauty at all.

    • oekmama February 6, 2012 at 7:25 AM - Reply

      Totally agree with Erika. This was a let’s-see-if-I-can-tweak-the-science-to-fit-my-racist-opinion. This is what the Nazis were doing, running around measuring peoples heads and stuff in the 1930s and 40s. Eugenics.

  7. Eboni May 23, 2011 at 10:48 AM - Reply

    I just read this follow up blog that basically sh!ts on Kanazawa’s methods and findings:

    I myself wondered how there was even a large enough sample of Native American women to have them ranked so highly attractive. Asian men were also ranked more attractive then other men– yet they also have difficulty finding wives…

  8. Ms. Erika June 21, 2011 at 5:35 PM - Reply

    I just saw a link to this on a friend’s Facebook.
    As a woman it is appreciated that that it was the outrage of black women that resolved this particular incident.
    As a white woman it bothers me that I knew nothing of this craziness until seeing it from a black woman.
    If this was something that happened within pop culture I believe it would’ve been common knowledge, sadly it would’ve also been dealt with publicly with a whole lot of name calling and teenage behavior. Since this happened in the “educated” world (who validates much of what is seen in popculture) and was dealt with by educated women who were supposed to be victimized by the incident smh this did not make the news 🙁
    Thank you, Ladies and the Gentlemen who understood and stood up for their mothers, sisters and wives

  9. Marci June 6, 2012 at 12:09 AM - Reply

    People attack what they feel is a threat. Black Women have become the new target of white angst; it is pure propaganda perpetrated and fueled by media and heavily endorsed by racisit. What is aweful is that in this post Civil Rights Society, Blacks have become victims of the very evil they fought against.

  10. Crystal March 23, 2013 at 1:53 PM - Reply

    Thanks for monitoring the website. I continue to love your concise commentary.

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