Frank Love on Satoshi Kanazawa’s Comparison of Black Women to Women of Other Races

Monday, Jun. 13th 2011 10:20 AM

Are you easy to offend? Do you often find yourself angered when someone points out something about you that you consider unfavorable? Would your partner say so? And are your emotional reactions getting you anywhere?

We are a society comprised of many easily-offended people. For example, consider the recent Psychology Today article in which journalist Satoshi Kanazawa reported on research gathered by Add Health. In it, he listed the resulting statistics and offered a possible answer to the question this study introduces – “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?”.  Admittedly, the controversy surrounding this article pretty much passed me by. I had heard about the research, but the subject matter didn’t interest me enough to digest it … until a few days ago when I heard it discussed on the talk show, Insight, by the host, a guest and a bunch of outraged callers. The majority of the callers seemed to be black women. But black women are definitely not the only group of people to get offended over something that was meant to be informative. If you think about it for a minute, you’ll come up with plenty of examples of other races, genders, religious groups, etc, getting worked up over news stories that painted them in a negative light.

The article appeared nearly a month ago, and Kanazawa has since been fired, seemingly because of the backlash surrounding it. However, I respect and admire his willingness to present this controversial information in a logical, research-based, objective way. I am hardly saying that I agree with his conclusions, but if you disagree, attack the research, not him.

The same goes for relationships. How often have your partners (past and current) civilly and respectfully made statements about you that felt uncomplimentary? And how often have you reacted by going off on them? Consider this: When we change the dynamic of the conversation from logical and objective to emotional, we usually do so because:

1) It is a topic about which we are overly-sensitive (like religion, politics, or race, as in the case of Kanazawa’s article), or

2) There is some truth to the information, and we are uncomfortable addressing it.

So, instead of pondering the merits and weaknesses of the statements, we get offended and start an argument – making the discussion about hurt feelings rather than the real issue. But if we keep the argument on the level at which it was presented, and discuss what was said in a rational and substantive way, we participate in an exchange that gets everyone a lot further than lunging into a fight. And even if we don’t ultimately accept what our partners are saying to be true, the ability to have logical conversations will help them want to be open and honest with us over time.

In Stephen Covey’s highly-acclaimed book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he urges us to always “seek first to understand.” Before you get offended or react, hear your partner out – and make sure that you understand both the point as well as the spirit in which it was intended. Though the information might feel insulting, consider that fact that your partner’s intention might be to be helpful – to inform you, or to help you grow, be happier, or better navigate life and relationships. This possibility is reason enough to allow for a give-and-take discussion. And even if the intention is mean-spirited, and your mate is speaking out of frustration, anger or hurt, there is still a learning opportunity there. For example, you may become more aware of your mate’s perceptions, biases or misconceptions. If you can avoid the urge to react emotionally, you may effectively dispel the aforementioned, and ultimately grow closer with your partner. When this happens, everyone wins.

Appreciating your mate’s willingness to talk to you and present potentially sensitive information will make you a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

www.FrankLove.com

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14 Comments on “Frank Love on Satoshi Kanazawa’s Comparison of Black Women to Women of Other Races”

  1. Steven S Says:

    Frank,

    I have to say that I think you’ve selected a work that doesn’t support the point you wish to make about our collective and individual notions of offense and their impacts.

    Contrary to your description, Kanazawa did not present his “controversial information in a logical, research-based, objective way”. He did, in fact, quite the opposite. He employed pseudoscience and the facade of scientific research to lend false validity and the vapors of objectivity to an entirely subjective quest. Without completely dissecting it, I can say that any inquiry into the social treatments of race and gender that relies upon “facts” cherry-picked from physiology and genetics while completely eliding any sociological and historical analysis- is miles from credibility. Like much of pseudoscience otherwise, it is an attempt of a person seeking credibility (from those presumed not to know better) for ideologies that are left otherwise unjustified and untenable by objective realities. As a result, I think both Kanazawa and his suspect “research” earn the crosshairs of critical analysis.

    The fact that it was endorsed as legitimate (through publication) by Psychology Today, a magazine that has enjoyed high regard within the psych community, suggests to me a wider and more insidious undercurrent of thought that allows the high scientific standards that usually animate peer review to be suspended when certain populations (read: power minorities) are in question.

    The idea that in this case (or others) the only people offended are those painted in a “negative light”, is patently wrong, insulting and stereotypes a mass of individuals on the basis of merely one commonality. It suggests further that offended populations simply react instinctively (rather than thoughtfully) to anything that might not speak of them a glowing fashion, that a person would/could not be offended by the unfairly disparaging treatment of people in other groups. Neither of those notions could be more distant from reality. I, for example, belong to a group that was elevated by the article. However I reject both the “compliment” of black men and the insult of black women on the basis of their fundamental illegitimacy. Kanazawa’s axe-grinding “article” cedes plenty of fertile ground to seed well-considered opposition and well-developed offense.

    The fact that you observed black women to be the primary mass of opposition on the call in show is likely the result of multiple factors. Two that stand out: the Insight show has an overwhelmingly black (and largely female) audience, and offense/repsonse is generally strongest in the groups whom the offending action most directly targets. Yet the locality of the offense does not determine its legitimacy- the merits of a situation do. Beyond that, offense is an individual experience and is always in the eye of the offended…

    Despite its centrality to your argument, I find nowhere in your piece, any definition of oversensitivity- as distinct from appropriate sensitivity. Thus, at a practical level, it seems that you grant no space where offense is legitimate or fitting. Is that what you mean to suggest?

    It’s one thing to hold our responses to offense under scrutiny for the ways that they may or may not serve us. I completely agree that we would all do well to maximize the quality of our responses to every situation. It is however another thing to deem offense itself to be a wholly unjustified sentiment.

    That distinction creates a crucial gap in which many questions sit… Should we consider ourselves above reproach and immune to charges of offense because we (subjectively) invest credence in our “objective”, “civil and respectful” approaches? Should we regard the mere observation of offense within ourselves as problematic because there resides in every situation opportunities to learn more? Or decline to hold people responsible for the offense they create, even as we seek more productive modes of processing? What do we exonerate on the basis of perceived intent?

  2. high j Says:

    agree with the comment by Steven. You chose a topic and article that doesn’t support your argument. Since you haven’t followed the controversy, you probably don’t know that his work and (lack of) scientific methodology were attacked, not him personally.

  3. Jim Bouchard Says:

    As a society, we’re not willing to reasonably debate sensitive issues. At the same time we overreact way too quickly to ANY bit of information in the 24/7 news cycle, blogosphere and on social networks before there is any verification.

    Folks, we’ve got to slow down a little, talk with one another, reach an understanding and find solutions.

    Great post Frank!

    Best!
    Jim

  4. Shari (Beautiful Black Queen) Says:

    Top of the morning to you Frank,

    Recently, I heard about the radio show presenting this inforamation and how it offended not just women of color but also our sisters of other races! This, in and of itself, is evidence as to how far women of all races in America have grown. However, part of what you have suggested in your feedback is relevant. I do agree that we as mature adults should have the innate abilites to communicate with one another in a non-threatening setting, verbally or nonverbally. The content of this psuedo scientific research (no appearence of peer review analysis) is quite questionable to present in order for the targeted population to not take offense. In addition, then to suggest that the Black male is a separate entity in this proclimation. Are you really serious? Whether you are a Black male or Black female in America, the perception from some is not very favorable on most societal levels. This information only fuels these attacts against Black people as a whole and should not be given the platform on any level to assert as scientific evidence!

    Frank, you should be more in tuned to the the plight of the targeted population when discussing such things.

    Shari
    (Beautiful Black Queen)

  5. Dr. Linda Gadbois Says:

    This is an interesting article. And while I, like you don’t particularly find the actual comment interesting enough to get involved, I do agree whole-heartedly that a person’s reaction to something says nothing about what they’re reacting to, but everything about them. Naturally most don’t have the self-awareness to examine their own reactions to see what they are showing them about themselves, and instead become totally invested in their right to be upset and want to make sure everybody knows it.

    The funny thing is, because they choose to strongly voice being offended, the article gets alot of attention and goes public . . . exagerating it’s impact. If they would have simply noticed their own reaction, and not responded or lashed out, it would have quickly gone by the way-side. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

    As for me, I don’t really look at life in labeled catagories that place value on physical attributes, to me all races are attractive when the person themselves are attractive. It’s not so much what color they are or how they’re proportioned, but rather how they carry themselves. What their personality is like, how the express themselves and what level of moral integrity they openly display. If they are “good” people (in my opinion) and maintain an honesty as a kind of innocence, and have a positive attitude that is inspiring and engaging that I can relate to, then I consider them attractive, regardless of what variety they come in. :-)

    I really think that the “racial thing” is in reality a thing of the past. The problem is we won’t let it die. People keep it alive by continuing to invest in it. They have their identity attached to prejudice in some way and keep investing attention in it by pointing it out through emotional reactions or strongly worded remarks. Yet, I really find it all kinda boring because it’s only real to them . . nobody else cares. Know what I mean?

    I think we need to focus more on people’s character and call them to develop themselves to a higher level of consciousness so that we can evolve the world to a more “user friendly” state, and divert our attention into building something beautiful, inspiring and worthwhile! Create something thats cool and feels good to be apart of.

    Linda

  6. Sherese Baker Says:

    The use of science to justify societal biases is irresponsible. This society has been brainwashed to believe that the pinnacle of beauty is the white woman and women of all races find themselves measuring their beauty by this standard.

    This is simply another form of oppression. Men from all races now prefer lighter skin tones and european features and women are going to great lengths to change their physical features to fit this ideal.

    I sincerely believe that this is the anti thesis of science. It gives very little account for compounding factors such as slavery, oppression and the ever present media telling us that these women are ugly.

    It is clear that this article is meant to perpetuate the current biases.

  7. Maree Says:

    I agree with the sentiments of your article here. It’ s basically what shakespeare was saying when he said: “Nothing is good or bad, thinking makes it so.” It’s always helpful to consider the context with which someone is bringing something to your attention and even more helpful to remember that you have control over how you respond to others observations of you!

  8. Chris Keith Says:

    Study the worlds of film and fashion in this context. Whether or not the study was pseudo-science, whether or not the article was inappropriately expressed, etc., this post reflects the reality that American cultural concepts of beauty have trended toward the darkening of the male and the whitening of the female. Halle Berry (sp), several years ago, proved the exception.

  9. Steven S Says:

    -”I really think that the “racial thing” is in reality a thing of the past. The problem is we won’t let it die.”

    While it may be expedient to particular worldviews to dismiss the longstanding socio-economic and political operation of race as merely an imaginary figment of those who are willing to voice their opposition, and declare that we have entered some “post-racial” era, such positions remain at profound distance from easily demonstrated realities.

    -”People keep it alive by continuing to invest in it. They have their identity attached to prejudice in some way and keep investing attention in it by pointing it out through emotional reactions or strongly worded remarks.”

    It is striking that the deep fallacy (stereotype) that groups all dissenters into a simplistic and emotional monolith of people reflexively “attached to prejudice” invented to sustain some illusory hurt, actually serves to validate the dissent. It also grants a false objectivity and legitimacy to positions privileged by the status quo.

    I defy the author to cite one example of any social problem that has been eliminated or improved through the decrease of attention and resources focused upon it. There are many to the contrary…

    Such dismissals have been aimed at those in contention with injustice for as long as injustice has existed. It is far easier to dismiss the address of inequality by killing the messenger than it is to disprove the message–or to honestly confront the circumstances that spawned it. Enter terms like “the race card” and their equivalents for discrimination on the basis of gender identity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, national origin, economic class, and other dimensions of social stratification. Would anyone say that all of these are strictly artifacts of paranoid imaginations? Or that we will meet the resolution of their harms through silence and inaction?

    -”Yet, I really find it all kinda boring because it’s only real to them… nobody else cares.”

    So the only legitimate experiences are those contained in our lives? I shudder to think that we would get to a place where we don’t have empathy on a basic human level that transcends more superficial distinctions of identity or life events. Is rape only worthy of my concern if it happens to me? What about the gender discrimination upon which rape culture rests? Where do we draw the line?

    I have to wonder who is included in the “nobody” from “nobody else cares”– and inversely whose voices and experiences don’t merit consideration.

  10. G Says:

    When I first read this post, there seemed to be a bit of complexity in the challenges it presented and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Now, reading it again, and the vibrant discussion among the comments, I see the key challenges as:

    1. The validity of the research itself (i.e., WTF?)
    2. The credibility of the author (i.e., Who in the hell is this punk?)
    3. The role of the magazine (i.e., How in the hell did they give this guy a column?)
    4. How we react to these things (i.e., Can’t we all act like grown folks?)
    5. The relevancy of the controversy (i.e., Can’t we just move on?)

    So, as Steven has stated, there’s little in the way of rigor or validity in the research. It’s highly subjective and “proves the position” rather than “investigates a hypothesis”. The “study” (using this word loosely) just doesn’t hold up.

    Now, I don’t know Kanazawa’s credentials, but I did read the post, and a subsequent post from someone else. I’d agree with the second post, which pointed out the weaknesses in the research, the shody analysis in Kanazawa’s piece, and Kanazawa’s history of posting that type of material. The second post also pointed out that the magazine quickly deleted the post.

    Which leads to why in the world did Psychology Today give this person a column. My understanding is that Kanazawa is not employed by the magazine, just posts regularly. I could be wrong since I haven’t called PT to verify, but I’m willing to let it go if Kanazawa doesn’t have a byline in the publication.

    And, I did let it go when it happened. I hoped that PT would post an apology or express regret, and figure out a way to police the postings better with a screening system or something, but there are more pressing bias issues in my opinion. There needs to be more of a pattern for me to sweat my relaxer out over this.

    It may not be the best example, but this whole episode does illustrate the continuing relevancy of social justice advocacy. There are persistent alarming disparities that place people of color and women at a disadvantage in virtually every aspect of life. I’m glad there are people out there fitting for my equity as a black woman, because the war isn’t over and we aren’t living a post-racial dream. That said, advocates could use more collaborative, strategic approaches. But all of that is for a another time.

    So, I’ll just end my 20 cents by saying that, Frank, your post could have benefitted from more research on the controversy and subsequent fallout — especially given the sensitivity of the topic. At the same time, I think the point you’re trying to make is worth discussing. In the end, the example and the point aren’t a good match.

    Looking forward to the next blog.

  11. G Says:

    Oh, boy. Apologies for the typos.

  12. Massander Says:

    I only agree with your recommendation to attack the argument first and foremost. Otherwise I disagree with you on this one. Steven’s first comment pretty much captures where I stand.

    By the way, I think the whole “only thongs that are true on some level bother you” argument holds little water, if any at all. Something can trigger some kind of pain without being true. Don’t dismiss that fact. It happens all the time. I have experiences that remind me of past pain or that touch on an issue I care about. Me being bothered doesn’t mean there is truth in someone’s ignorance. This argument reminds me of the “sticks and stones break my bones, bit words will never hurt me” thinking, which I fond laughable.

  13. P Says:

    Frank,

    I’m normally excited to see things posted; this article has it waning significantly. Like yourself I wasn’t heavily invested in responding to this research, yet saying this was based on objective criteria is false. Without re-hashing some of the qualms posted by others I’ll just say I hope in the future you’ll have better posts.

  14. Patricia Says:

    Regarding “there is some truth to the information and we are uncomfortable addressing it”. There are many other variables that may cause an individual to be offended or overreact to a false statement made to him/her by a partner. However, for purposes of time and space, I’ll just mention these two:

    1)When the false statement is coming from someone you love and trust – That’s why loved ones are able to hurt us the deepest (they know what hurt us the most.)and;

    2) when the false statement is coming from someone more powerful than us (well-respected, educated, accepted), whom we are trying to impress (he’s a man, I’m a woman) and who is backing up the statement with so-called “objectivity” and calling it fact not fiction.

    Frank, you have no idea how disappointed I was to have seen that your article was written by a black man. My brother, do you really believe there may be some truth or objectivity in Kanazawaa’s evil attempt to keep our people (men and women) at each other’s throaths? Divide and conquer is the name of the game, you know.

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