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

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

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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.

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Eva May 20, 2011 - 11:53 AM

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

Michelle of Chellbellz May 20, 2011 - 12:42 PM

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 - 7:19 AM

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.

Daphne May 20, 2011 - 1:49 PM

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.

candiew May 20, 2011 - 2:38 PM

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 - 4:27 PM

@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.

Deb May 20, 2011 - 5:49 PM

Looks like some others are asking the same question. Check out this post on ScienceBlogs.com about Kanazawa’s “study.” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/05/i_guess_even_psychology_today.php.

I love the categories: “bad science” and “kooks.”

Anonymous May 20, 2011 - 11:38 PM

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 - 10:06 AM

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

Deb May 20, 2011 - 5:44 PM

“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.

Lorne Marr May 22, 2011 - 9:26 AM

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 - 10:42 AM

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 - 7:25 AM

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.

Eboni May 23, 2011 - 10:48 AM

I just read this follow up blog that basically sh!ts on Kanazawa’s methods and findings: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201105/black-women-are-not-rated-less-attractive-our-independent-analysis-the-a

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…

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

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

Marci June 6, 2012 - 12:09 AM

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.

Crystal March 23, 2013 - 1:53 PM

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

BrownGirl July 29, 2013 - 7:29 PM

A bit of a side tangent but I’m truly sick of the Black women are single propaganda. It’s just FALSE. They are picking a specific age group of Black women. According to CENSUS DATA in their lifetime most Black women will get married (88% I believe) just much later in life compared to women. Yes this percentage is lower than other races, but it is not the majority of BM as these “news” specials claim.

Media keeps trying to tell us it’s because we’re too independent. We care too much about our careers. I think this is a response to the studies showing Black women are the most rapidly upward community in the US when it comes to education and corporate world. White media wants to put a stop to this without looking like it’s doing so.

What’s the real issue(s) then? More Black men are killed and imprisoned (both justly and injustly) than other races. We are also outnumbered at birth if I’m not mistaken. Compile that with the fact that bachelor culture is more encouraged in the Black community. It is not uncommon for Black men to have a girlfriend for 15 years. Add in the praise for being “ride or die” (aka coddling BM no matter how awful they are) and you’ve got a recipe for the destruction of family values.

THIS is what we need to solve, not start underachieving to assuage Black men or white people’s egos.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 29, 2013 - 9:33 PM

FOOD. FOR. THOUGHT. *grabs plate*

WritingDD March 6, 2014 - 10:04 PM

New to your site Erika and I LOVE it!
When this article appeared in Psychology Today, my first thought was “I wish that the sister who broke Kanazawa’s heart would go get her boy, sit him down and explain that someone out there MIGHT love him someday — and if he is very, very lucky, she MIGHT be another beautiful black woman.”

Erika Nicole Kendall March 7, 2014 - 9:36 AM

And, quite honestly, that’s where a lot of the anti-black vitriol comes from. Somewhere, some how, some black person did something that negatively affected someone and now they think their only recourse is to take it out on all black people. It’s absolutely ludicrous.

And, even as I type this, I have an absolutely nauseating comment on the original post about this psych today essay about how disgusting we are as black women. The hilarious thing about it, though, is that the vitriol is beyond supremacy – it’s in the “My boyfriend cheated on me and left me for a black woman and now, I’m crushed.” realm. And it reeks of hurt feelings. I feel bad for them, but only so much. Because screw that. LOL

Alaiyo June 17, 2014 - 2:42 PM

I notice that, as usual, the general trend is to attack Kanazawa (the messenger) and avoid the real culprit: CNN. Why do black women constantly react to the garbage that these media sources are spewing out instead of simply boycotting them? The subjectivity of beauty is not the issue here, nor is Kanazawa’s mindset. The ‘Powers that Be’ at CNN decided that this nonsense would be published knowing that it would be offensive. “Deb”, on 5/20/11, hit the nail on the head: “And we all still consume this media because many of us still feel like we have no other choice.” Really? Have none of you ever heard of Reuters? None of the reactions that I have read so far on this site and others have suggested boycott. That is, boycotting the news sources and their sponsors (and letting the sponsors know that you’re boycotting them). This is why it continues; no one’s losing money over it. Reading all of these rebuttals offered to garbage is very disturbing. You are behaving like the powerless creatures that they assume you are!

Erika Nicole Kendall June 17, 2014 - 5:48 PM

In your zeal to turn this around and blame black women for the misfortunes that befall them, you’ve gotten your information mixed up. CNN didn’t post the original offending article – PsychologyToday’s website posted the original article. CNN gave one of their writers the space to REFUTE the article, and he did so exceptionally well.

That being said, I’m always confused by people who said “Boycott!” Um, this is media. Media with journalistic credibility, with a purpose intended to inform larger society, at that. The answer to flaws in their reporting and writing is NOT to respond with silent boycotts – the answer is to reach out to them via social media and let them know that offensive content offends us ALL regardless of race and will not be tolerated by their audience.

We REACT so that it is clear that we are OFFENDED and deserve to be heard. The idea that we should be “above” reacting to injustices committed by journalistic outlets we entrust with our money and time is foolishness. And, if you feel like we’d be “always mad,” then perhaps your energy should be spent asking why larger society refuses to respect black people, and insist on posting incendiary and demeaning content towards us instead of asking why we’d deign to defend our humanity.

As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Alaiyo June 18, 2014 - 9:56 AM

Hmm…you read into this that I was blaming my own. I find that most interesting. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Nor was I expecting your apparent anger.

However, my apologies on having gotten the sources mixed up. A colleague and I were comparing different instances of black women being cast in a bad light since the Obamas entered the White House. She found one that was repeated by a CNN segment while I was reading through your posts. Thanks for correcting me on that!

At any rate, I don’t think that I can see the “journalistic credibility” of any media source that would have published that nonsense in the first place. Regarding the power of the Boycott: You identify, say, two major sponsors and let them know that you can’t continue buying their products/services if they continue to support the offender. Then, of course, you suit the word to the deed. Also, you let the offender and the public know (through your blogs, websites, etc.) what you are doing. Many will discontinue associating themselves with the offender for fear of being considered ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’. As I said, your anger should be directed toward the real source, not the messenger or the tool. There is no silence involved.

At any rate, if what you are doing works for you…keep up the good work!



Erika Nicole Kendall June 18, 2014 - 10:35 AM

“Hmm…you read into this that I was blaming my own.”

Quoting you: “Why do black women constantly react to the garbage that these media sources are spewing out instead of simply boycotting them?”

The problem, implied by you, is that we’d deign to react. Not that we shouldn’t HAVE to react because this shouldn’t BE happening, but that we’d deign to react. Feels like blame to me.

“Nor was I expecting your apparent anger.”

You didn’t get my “anger.” You got my annoyance. This is a common derailing tactic, to ask people why they’d bother responding to incendiary media instead of ignoring it, and it’s annoying. Of COURSE people are going to respond – why not ask why it continues to be published? Why not ask why these racist, disgusting, vile, sorry excuses for human beings haven’t gone the way of the dinosaur yet?

“At any rate, I don’t think that I can see the “journalistic credibility” of any media source that would have published that nonsense in the first place.”

This is the problem – inflammatory content that is offensive to all kinds of races and cultures is posted on any number of media outlets, because it’s written by people who don’t know any better, passed on to editors who don’t know any better, and oftentimes read by people who don’t know any better and take the written words as gospel because of their lack of knowledge. Psychology Today has credibility. Hell, The New York Times has credibility in one of the most diverse cities in the Union, and still managed to let this op-ed be published. The solution to the problem of ignorance is education – letting people know, YES, this is offensive, YES this is cruel, and YES this shines a negative light on your outlet… and without proper correction or education, you WILL continue to make these errors.

This happened three years ago. Our anger WAS pointed at the real source, which IS in fact both the messenger AND the tool – writers at major outlets have editors for a reason, and when a writer is trusted to produce content for an outlet without an editor, things like this happen. PsychToday was swift in their response to the melee and not only pulled the article down but also issued an apology and fired the writer responsible. In other words, we got exactly what we wanted – media that respects our humanity and takes action against those who fail to do the same in their name.

I’m sensitive to the goal of the boycott, but this is the 21st century, and this is the Internet. Boycotting doesn’t have the same effect that blatant outreach has, especially in an era where so many outlets have social media managers who run their Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest/whatever who can alert higher-ups of a problem and get it rectified ASAP. You ever had a problem with an airline flight or a service you use? Check the company’s twitter. They’ll oftentimes answer your questions in under 10 minutes. You can’t even get a customer service rep on the phone quicker than that.

What we’re doing IS working. We’re collectively recognizing errors and joining together to let offending outlets know what they got wrong and WHY it was wrong, and they’re correcting it and making changes to prevent it. We don’t want media that continues to offend – we want media that respects the humanity of ALL people and reflects that in not only their content, but in their writer pools, as well. So, yes, it’s working, and cheers to that!

Tashi September 24, 2014 - 7:59 PM

From an evolutionary standpoint, black women are genetically better off than most groups. They are genetically dominant and biologically men want women who look like they will produce healthy offspring. Therefore, having a bigger body mass ( to successfully deliver a child) is more beneficial and bigger breast (more milk to feed the offspring). Also, men want a women who seem fertile. That’s why youth is so important to men and men tend to be older in the relationship (Black women age well). This means that black women are in a biologically and evolutionary better position than most women. But why is our beauty constantly under fire? It’s is how our beauty is socialized in the world. The mass media constantly attack us and even reinforces negatively images. If you’re looking through a magazine, you’d be lucky to find one black girl if it isn’t JET, or black magazines. A black women’s only issue to me is obesity. Our group has the one of the highest obesity rate. I am not talking about a little fat. I am talking dangerously overweight. Black people only represent 10-13 percent of the US population. sometimes, stereotype is all non-blacks have to go on. Precious, Olivia from scandal. We are perceived as unattractive and unwanted. olivia is in a interracial affair with a married white man (The Jezebel). Black men and hip hop artist are socialized into dating white women. Apparently, in the NBA (or NFL. I forgot), they encourage men to not date women with twist in their hair (Pretty much black women). Apparently, it encourages “bad self-image”. There has also been incidents of black men eventually having extramarital affairs with black one their wives got old (that doesn’t take long LOL). My point is that if he wanted to speak from an evolutionary stand point, black women (and men are better evolutionary partners) He said blacks have more testosterone than most groups. That means nothing. Blacks have more muscle mass (as I stated) Testosterone is a hormone and studies show it is not so much linked to violence than competition. (It makes you more competitive) End Point: That study is trash and its just trying to devalue black women even further. Black girls. just keep doing your thing you are the most envied race of women their is out there. They want our lip, ours butts, our breasts, and skin. I’m pretty sure, eventually, they’ll want everything; noses, hair, etc., Anyways, NEXT!

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