The Ugly Truth: Today’s Psychologies of Racism and Sexism

17 May

By now, most of you have heard of the blog article that appeared in yesterday’s issue of Psychology Today asserting that Black women are objectively less attractive than women of all other races. The piece was removed after a bad attempt at re-titling it, but here’s a repost.

Here’s a truth: Objectivity is the originary creation myth of science.

But that’s not what this post is about. 

I want to make three very brief observations about this so-called “study” published in Psychology Today.

First, in addition to making disturbing pronouncements about the lack of intelligence of Black people as a whole, Satoshi Kanazawa, the “study’s” author concluded that while Black women were in “fact” less attractive than all other groups, we subjectively believed ourselves to be more attractive than any other race of women. So the study argues that we are a culture of mentally impoverished, delusional womenfolk, who have an aversion to fact. Meanwhile, the pseudoscience of this study, in perpetuating the notion that Blacks are not only mentally inferior but mentally unwell, offers conclusions that are  wholly and regrettably ableist.

Kanazawa goes on to perpetuate the biologically determinist, essentialist fiction that there are significant genetic differences between the races:

“There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.”

And this leads to the second observation: this particular pronouncement not only pivots upon pure lies, but is also a not-so-subtle attempt to perpetuate the gender wars between Black men and women, and I hope thinking brothers don’t fall for it. And even better, I hope they view this as an opportunity to stand for and with Black women, without re-centering the racial narrative on themselves. For once, racist pseudoscience seems to be working in Black men’s favor, although I suspect that these notions of Black male objective beauty pivot upon their own set of problematic cultural fetishizing of the Black male body.

The entire point of this study is that Black women’s “objective ugliness” can be determined by genetics, and because this is clearly a conclusion searching for facts, the author locates the culprit in testosterone. He argues that Black women have more testosterone than other women, which makes our bodies more masculine and therefore less attractive. In addition to offering a biological basis for the Sapphire myth of the emasculating, angry, aggressive Black woman, Kanazawa’s pronouncements remind me of the same 1850s era gender beliefs that had Sojourner Truth bearing her breasts to prove she was indeed a woman.

And this brings me to the third and final point: the failure to consider the ways in which these pronouncements impact transwomen makes this study an exercise in transphobia as well.

Let me, however, be honest in saying that this study did not merely make me angry. It also hurt my feelings. These continual daily assaults on the bodies and minds of Black women do take a toll, psychically and physically. There is a very real reason why Black women quoting Sister Fannie, are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Our bodies have so little value in American society that magazines, media, musicians, Black film directors and romantic advice gurus, and any other post-moral opportunists have no problem waging an all out cultural assault on our intelligence, achievements, feelings, or bodies to sell the product their selling.  This ridiculousness reaffirms the very real need for Black women to have a committed regimen of self-care. 

And on that note, I am now resuming my vacation.

To support the cause, please sign this petition calling for editorial acccountability at Psychology Today over at Change.Org.

And for additional excellent coverage of the response to this debacle, check out

Akiba Solomon’s piece at ColorLines here and

Latoya Peterson’s piece at Racialicious here.

40 Responses to “The Ugly Truth: Today’s Psychologies of Racism and Sexism”

  1. Denise @How Mama Got Her Swag Back May 17, 2011 at 4:54 PM #

    What I found most egregious about the whole article is the not-so-subtle attack on our femininity and womanliness by pointing out our “testosterone levels.” Nor did the article even attempt to look at socialization as a influencer of perception. It just assumes that physiologically we are inherently unattractive. But when I was in Europe white, black, and Arab boys were clamoring for my attention… because everyone thought black girls were so beautiful. Right…

  2. melissa@thehungryartist May 17, 2011 at 6:53 PM #

    I cannot believe that that article was published. By aan established magazine. In 2011. It wasn’t on some random racist person’s blog or anything. Unbelievable!!!!

  3. Kim May 17, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

    Since when did “African” become a race? In all the time he spent putting this shit together, he could have at least educated himself on the difference between race, ethnicity, nationality, and geographical location.

  4. Ashaf May 17, 2011 at 8:57 PM #

    Thank you for writing this. I wonder how Psychology Today can/ will justify ever giving him this platform.

  5. Koomah May 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM #

    Racism toward ANY race, and “ism’s” of any kind toward anybody are unacceptable.

    As a person of color (Japanese decent), Satoshi Kanazawa should already be aware of this and probably knows first hand what it’s like to hear discrimination and racism aimed at them.

    As a person of color (who is ALSO of Japanese decent) let me be one to say BLACK WOMEN AND MEN, ALL WOMEN AND MEN ARE BEAUTIFUL. ALL PEOPLE ARE BEAUTIFUL… and this type of “studies” only reinforce negative stereotypes, hatred, and bigotry.

    This is not a study, it’s a sad and disgusting lie that reinforces the psycho-social idea of beauty while overlooking the emotion, personality, and nature of the individual all based on race.

    True beauty is the perfect balance of confidence and humility, not a skin-tone, facial structure, hormone level, size, or ability.

    Be beautiful. Stay beautiful.

    • TaKeshia Brooks/Inda Lauryn May 18, 2011 at 1:35 PM #

      As a person of African descent, let me tell you thank you for your words and by them I can tell that you are a beautiful person as well. Take some of your own advice and be beautiful, stay beautiful.

  6. PinkMuslimah May 18, 2011 at 5:53 AM #

    I cannot see straight. Let me try reading this again – after I have figured out how to breathe again.

    • ellen May 26, 2011 at 8:13 PM #

      Yes, i’m feeling faint. I do declare! Please bring the smelling salts.

  7. PinkMuslimah May 18, 2011 at 6:02 AM #

    Betcha Michel Martin covers this issue.

  8. damidwif May 18, 2011 at 6:47 AM #

    I have to tell you that Psychology Today is no stranger to promoting/publishing bullshit (then again, I must admit that I’m not a fan of psychology, period). I have followed them for a couple of years now regarding domestic violence and issues concerning motherhood and they have continuously spewed straight shit.

    For example, an article saying that girls that come from single mother households develop faster because they don’t have their biological father around–that the absence of his hormones contributes to this. Not diet, which could be based on economics, not any other explanation.

    Anyways, if having more testosterone gives me this body, these lips, this brain, and a sex drive like a lion, then thank you very much.

  9. redflags May 18, 2011 at 7:10 AM #

    Grossly racist article, and just plain silly. Without engaging the underlying fallacies of what is attractive, or the silly idea that genetic diversity is not “healthy” (as if inbreds like British royal family looked “good”) — there is another claim that starts that article: that “objectivity is the original creation myth of science”.

    I do understand that among the many ridiculous effects of US liberal arts graduate school programs is the attack on science, on the very idea of a common shared reality. Here’s a truth: the world “objectively” exists apart from our conscious apprehension of it, that were I never born, the sun would still rise in the east and set in the west. That no matter how I feel about it (or whether I understand it) there was “objectively” a Roman empire that rose and fell.

    Science is the means by which we understand necessity, why one thing happens instead of another — how we come to fly in airplanes and treat polio with vaccines. Understanding that its not a sky god that I “believe” in which causes drought, or that “what is true for me” matters beyond a discussion of how and why we think one thing instead of another.

    There is something peculiarly American about the demand the whole world be reduced to individual opinion. “Well, you believe in Jesus, so Jesus is real for you.” Uh, no. Either there is a Jesus and he is the Messiah or there is not. Objectively, apart from consciousness. My belief matters nothing in terms of whether it is true or not.

    To pretend otherwise is not only to attack the idea of knowledge, science, truth — it is to equate backwardness and ignorance with fidelity to oneself. That the history of science, as with all endeavors, is itself riddled with “scientism” — or the use of scientific language to present faith-based ideas (eg “race”) can’t be argued. But it is the tools of science which allow us to understand our common shared reality and transform it.

    But if you think there is no “objective” reality — then jump off a cliff and say “I believe I can fly” and see where that gets you.

    • crunktastic May 18, 2011 at 8:18 AM #

      Your critique proceeds from the assumption that relativism is the necessary antonym of objectivity. I reject this assumption because as you point out, there are facts that we can know about how the universe operates. I also reject your assumption because I work from a different epistemological frame that does not proceed on the kind of binary grounds which necessitate that if I reject one cultural schema, I only have one other option to adopt in terms of how I know the world. There are more ways of knowing than that. And a strictly scientific frame limits greatly what we can know.

      So the question is not whether we can know in my opinion, but what can we know? how can we know? and what makes things “true?” Science participates in this process. In that regard, to paraphrase an old adage about money, science is a great servant but a bad master. Plenty of folks do good scientific work without buying into the falsities of strict empiricism or the notion that scientists, the folk who conduct the research, can come to fully objective conclusions about cultural issues. If science is the end all be all standard of what we know, the one hundred years ago Black folks–and apparently in 2011 Black womenfolk– would have had to accept scientific pronouncements of themselves as inferior, because science “objectively” stood on these findings based on studies of cranial size, etc. Regardless of science and in many cases, lack of access to basic literacy, Black folks knew that they were human on equal standing with other humans, centuries before Western science would concede the facticity of such a point. How did they know if they did not derive these truths scientifically? And based upon your traditional definition of objectivity as that which is not based in or tainted by experience, then Black folks knowledge of themselves as human was an entirely subjective undertaking, based on their experience of themselves. Surely you wouldn’t want to draw this conclusion, because if you do it means that objective science was centuries behind subjective experiences, of African descended people no less, in arriving at objective truths that we should all worship.

      Based on this history alone, science should be engaged with a healthy degree of skepticism. As a Black woman and one who has read many studies and intellectual histories of scientific racism, I am quite clear that what counted as objective truths in prior eras have all but been debunked in later eras, and with rapidity of information flow these days, long held scientific truths get debunked every day. So let’s bring your discussion out of the stratosphere into the very real realm of daily human interactions; the human sciences are not objective, and the notion that the only truths we can know are those “objectively” derived proceeds out of a faulty Western epistemological frame, that I both work within but also engage within a hermeneutic of suspicion, and altogether reject in some cases. It is not wise for people of color in particular to by into the myth of objectivity, since the history of science attests to a group of largely white men with an overaching agenda to affirm their own humanity via the use of human and biological sciences, with no care or concern to the detriment of their findings for folk of color. The article in psychology today is merely a contemporary reiteration of this kind of very prevalent thinking. Thanks for reading and please excuse me if I don’t take flight.

      • blacktothebone May 20, 2011 at 2:35 PM #

        You cannot explain away bull @#$% Science just sturs the stinking pot to produce whom ever and what ever results the seek. Any scientist Psychologist or medical doctor. will tell you the only contribution of ethnic groups have made to humanity is to exist because of the african woman. Beauty the beauty of life is held in the bones of Black women, the DNA proves this, so when you look a Cacausions you have to really know history, not from the pages which claim descent, history would be a better reach project the lies produces by science to please the predjudice pallet, more often than not cacusions can not tell the truth, because they don;t know it. To challenge the obvious “Beauty” in any time and space concerning African women, is shallow and slanted to the demonic legacy they not spoke of from their history. Drop it don’t be it.

      • crunktastic May 20, 2011 at 5:33 PM #


        I’m unclear to whom your comments are directed. I certainly find the “science” problematic in this article and this was the point I was attempting to make.


      • Adrian June 2, 2011 at 3:36 PM #

        Thank you for your sterling replies in the face of unfortunate provocation.

        Surely there is a distinction to be made between the objectivity of science and the objectivity of scientists?

        Perhaps objectivity is best regarded as a continuum, and statements should be regarded as occupying a position on that continuum, whose exact position cannot be accurately divined.

        Or objectivity might be regarded as a theoretical pure state, which (like mathematical lines and points of infinitesimal width) is never truly encountered in everyday life…

  10. Melinda May 18, 2011 at 8:07 AM #

    For anyone else interested, Jezebel has a great article that documents this pseudo-scientist’s attempts at justifying a wide array of misogynist and racist and all the other “ists.” Here’s a link:

    Crunk Feminist Collective, this is a great post, and keep up your amazing work!

  11. Oliver May 18, 2011 at 10:36 AM #

    Redflags sounds like Camille Paglia and Crunktastic sounds like Judith Butler.

    And, I’m on the side of Camille Paglia who would agree that academic feminists using phrases like…

    “I also reject your assumption because I work from a different epistemological frame that does not proceed on the kind of binary grounds which necessitate that if I reject one cultural schema, I only have one other option to adopt in terms of how I know the world.”

    …are just plain nonsensical. Sounds like Derrida.

    If you want to speak about reality and science, then bombastic rhetoric like this will alienate you further from it.

    Either way, every guy knows that you never tell a girl they are fat or unattractive (whatever race) in our current culture – whether it’s from a scientific article or not, because you will get attacked, denounced, shred to pieces.

    Women hate to hear that men are superficial. But, men care primarily about attractiveness. It’s true. It’s reality. Most guys don’t want fat women. Most guys don’t want girls with masculine features or personalities (which could result from increased testosterone). These are the ‘social constructs’ in which I live — where guys cannot say anything about a woman’s appearance without getting in trouble.

    If feminists weren’t so militaristic in their approach, if they weren’t so set upon distancing themselves from basic human nature, then we wouldn’t have to read such ridiculous academic verbosity such as this:

    “So let’s bring your discussion out of the stratosphere into the very real realm of daily human interactions; the human sciences are not objective, and the notion that the only truths we can know are those “objectively” derived proceeds out of a faulty Western epistemological frame…”

    So, keep on fighting for the ugly girls out there who choose not to believe in “objectivity’ – whether subjective or objective, they’re still not getting laid. Go out into the world and see for yourself.

    • Beth May 18, 2011 at 1:39 PM #

      Holy shit, Oliver, you are absolutely right! No man ever calls a woman fat or ugly. Never! He doesn’t shout it out of car windows or across a room. He doesn’t leap to label her a fat bitch if she dares to make him mad or reject his advances. He would NEVER mock her for eating food in public if she’s bigger than a size 10. Or moo at her when she puts on a bathing suit like she has a right to enjoy the beach. Never. And there is never racism in the mocking when it’s levied against black women or when they are told in articles like that shit in Psychology Today that they are less than.

      Because you’ve deemed it so, and the lived experiences of thousands of women cannot hold up against your truth. Brava.

    • crunktastic May 18, 2011 at 2:22 PM #

      Oliver, just be glad that we’re allowing your comment any airtime on this site. Peace.

      • Oliver May 18, 2011 at 3:08 PM #

        Thank you for allowing my comments. My intentions are not hostile. I’m merely posing a contrary viewpoint – making me a minority here, I see. Censorship is a form of control, so I’m glad you’re not trying to control your site in order to manipulate your readers to ‘join the crowd.’ Open dialogue encourages progress, no?

    • Courtney D. Cogburn, Ph.D. May 18, 2011 at 4:18 PM #


      The point is not whether individuals are entitled to their opinions — Satoshi’s thoughts on whether I or women who look like me are attractive is irrelevant. What is problematic, however, is basing this opinion on poor “science” … I find it difficult to even call it science, actually. It is also problematic that Psychology Today appears to not have a process for vetting original research posted to their site, which is an essential component of the work we do.

      In other words, I’m not advocating for people to think Black women are pretty — I really don’t give a shit what you think. I am, however, upholding the fundamentals of science.

      Please consider signing the following petitions – 1) directed to professional organizations of Psychology to respond to Psychology Today and other pseudo-science outlets and 2) directed to the London School of Economics (Satoshi’s employer) and a public apology from Psycholog Today – started by our allies across the pond



      • damidwif May 18, 2011 at 5:41 PM #

        Oliver, I would love to believe that your comments were merely to intellectually engage and provide a contrary viewpoint however your statement, “so keep on fighting for the ugly girls our there who choose not to believe in “objectivity”…they’re still not getting laid” is proof of the contrary.

        I’m not sure what your frame of reference is, but from where I can see, “ugly” girls, which, if this about the research in question, means Black women, are surely getting laid because who is responsible for all these single mothers with children?–the same mothers that society blames for everything. Only pretty women get pregnant?

        If you want to speak about reality and science, then I would think you would realize that the “basic human nature” that you spoke of, has historically been decided by groups other than Black folks. Research is performed by the privileged and it is maintained and guarded within. Also, if you read the content at link that Melinda provided from Jezebel, you might see that Kanazawa has had an axe to grind with women, which he puts under the guise of feminism.

        “Women hate to hear that men are superficial. But men care about attractiveness…”

        Is that based on science? Is that any more true for men than it is for women?

        What about this one?: Men hate to hear that they have a small penis or that they can’t fuck. But women care about penis size and how good a man is in bed. However, every woman knows that you never tell a man that his dick is small or that he can’t fuck because she will get attacked/raped, denounced/sexuality called into question, shred to pieces/every aspect of her life then open up to criticism. HOWEVER, women are socialized to be accepting and nurturing–to stroke the man’s ego and deny herself her own pleasure for the greater good.

        The problem with that assertion is that guys who lack skills or size can often eat pussy gratuitously with passion. So a woman can maybe put up with a 2 minute fuck that she can’t really feel.

        Did that study come out yet?

  12. lala May 19, 2011 at 8:18 AM #

    I say this across the board much of this stuff/ these
    “studies” are agenda driven.

  13. Danielle May 20, 2011 at 1:33 PM #

    Thanks for this. It is so disheartening seeing and reading articles like this. Its even more disheartening knowing someone potentially funded this asshole to produce such a poor piece of academic trash at the expense of black women. Its even worse to know a “psychology” magazine published this without a single glance. As a student, I am wondering, has this asshole ever done a literature review? Because one would have shown various perspectives as to why black women are “objectively” (and I have seen this argument on here and I am sick and tired of men fucking trolls who want to think they are hot shit and come to rain on people’s parade in a wrong and ignorant fashion, fuck you) less attractive and many of them involve social concepts and the affects those have on perspective and perception of others and of self.

    Its interesting to see that so many men are stuck on this idea of human nature and objectivity as though it happens in a vacuum. And as if they are universal and consistent through out time and space. And then attack the hell out of you for saying this might not be the case. Its quite arrogant to think you know so much more than people who have made their own observations, done their own work, and had their own experiences. Screw you.

    Men think we are militaristic because we are speaking. A woman with a voice is like an assault on these small egoed self-centered pricks. We have every right to speak and tear you to bits when you put out articles like this and are supported by even more systems of white academia and funding to further your agenda. *end rage*

    • Srinivas May 20, 2011 at 2:21 PM #

      I went to college in England and the black girls in my college were popular, and were asked out for dates by all kinds of guys mostly white, black, Pakistanis, and Indians. Maybe it is different here in the US.

  14. mindmy business May 20, 2011 at 2:45 PM #

    I have tried to post a comment regarding this article but the site says I’ve post before which is a lie also.
    So I guess with out question the conversation was invented from lies,from a eternally inferior being.

    • Danielle May 20, 2011 at 4:13 PM #

      What the hell are you talking about? If you want a dialogue, have one. If you agree with the article, say so. If you have something to say, say it. I don’t think anyone’s stopping you. You obviously just posted, which means no one is preventing you.

      • Danielle May 20, 2011 at 5:23 PM #

        @mindmy business: I realize I was probably being harsh now that I am rereading your statement. I jumped on you like a troll, which you are probably not. My apologies.

  15. porschia May 21, 2011 at 6:38 PM #

    If Psychology Today truly believed its own fluff and the xenophobic, sexist and racist ideologies that Black women are objectively less attractive than all other women, I would think the publications would cease publishing articles about Black folks. If they believed we are truly an empty cup, then why not ignore our humanness as though we never existed. However, Psychology Today needs to believe their pages are important, needs to believe in their existence so the publication regurgitates.

    I read a tiny piece of his article; very little. I do know our beaming existence is the reason Kanazawa awoke and wrote his article. We inherently reflect something in Kanazawa that he cannot embrace. His self-hate radiates. The way he chooses to deal with his self-hate is by attempting to mind-fuck us. Yes, this type of authorship angers me, but I’m not receiving it.

    I’m not oblivious to the pain, anguish and stress that his type of writing pours nor am I justifying it. I do know the publication and its author are fearful of our different representations and that fear’s foundation is desire to contain an ounce of our radiance. I’m not ignoring the damage Psychology Today can do. On my end, I must continue to reflect my truth, our truth and that truth is our variations are globally extraordinary and inspiring. This is what I’m holding onto in order to burn Kanazawa’s bullshit and transform its ash.

    Thank you CFC for this blog. I need your gifts: this dialogue. This post, like others, helps me expand, comprehend and reflect.

    • Rachel May 27, 2011 at 12:30 AM #

      A few years ago I regrettably purchased my first only copy of Psychology Today since one of the main articles promised to divine “answers” about my personality, which I considered deficient. Another article also offered means of alleviating social anxiety and loneliness. Despite much cynicism, I thought the benefit of finding ways to make friends superseded the magazine’s financial expense. The articles had nothing to say but self-evident fluff. As a further insult, Psychology Today then put a women with a submissive expression on her face in S and M gear to promote an article about sexual fantasies and what they supposedly mean.

      According to Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, old-time eugenicists (meaning from the late nineteenth century to the 1930s) argued that the “greater genetic variation” within the black population indicated a greater prevalence of genetic defects. At the same time, whites considered blacks “hardier,” and innately more suited to manual labor and harsh southern heat. So Kanazawa, who isn’t even a geneticist or biologist, relied upon blatantly racist postulations from a time when scientists thought protein directed the creation of phenotypes; They didn’t even understand the function of DNA! By the way, Africa’s immense variation is responsible for the genesis of humanity to begin with. Hell, white people may essentially be black! Consider the following:

  16. Jeanetta Mish May 27, 2011 at 4:18 PM #

    I feel like some of the other commenters here: excuse me while I catch my breath and check to see what century I’m in. And this bunch of claptrap was published in a respectable journal? Psychology Today editors and peer reviewers, you should be deeply ashamed of yourself. You should resign for your incompetence. As far as the author of this retrograde bunch of b.s. goes, I hope that your colleagues in psychology shun you, forever.

  17. Steph H. June 6, 2011 at 1:20 PM #

    I saw a critique of this article, and I was curious what folks around here thought of it.

    In regards to the data that our hack psychologist collected, black women were rated as lower in the “perceived attractiveness” than white women, and black men were rated higher than white men. According to the critique of this, this might relate to racial stereotypes of black women and men. Since black women and men are both perceived as being more “masculine” than their white counterparts, black women will be perceived as less attractive, because masculinity is “unattractive” for a woman. Black men, on the other hand, will be perceived as more attractive, because being more masculine makes a man “hotter.”

    I bring this up, because of this quote in the article: “For once, racist pseudoscience seems to be working in Black men’s favor, although I suspect that these notions of Black male objective beauty pivot upon their own set of problematic cultural fetishizing of the Black male body. ”

    I had previously agreed with the criticism I previously described, but your comment makes me wonder if there’s more going on than I thought, or if the criticism holds water at all.

  18. Nico June 9, 2011 at 8:50 AM #

    I think we really need to be concerned for Satoshi Kanazawa. He must be delusional or have really bad eye sight or something, because last time i checked black women were some of the most beautiful, sexy, women on earth!

  19. Honest Response June 9, 2011 at 7:46 PM #

    If I randomly selected ten thousand people of all age and race, and showed them 4 pictures of a 25 year old woman, each woman from a different race and asked them which one was the most attractive… how many people here would seriously put money down that the black 25 year old woman would win? Stop projecting your guilt that people are inherently racist but not in an angry way… just in an “I just don’t particularly think black women are superior in sexual attractiveness to other races” kind of way… please just calm down.


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