|1953 Doctor injecting patient with placebo|
Although many of my students understand the 21st century relevance of the Tuskegee Syphilis study, some of them still believe that this kind of racism in medicine is a phenomenon of the-not-so-recent past. They believe that there are safeguards and checks and balances in place like "informed consent" to protect them against the occasional rogue physician. A recent article in Psychology Today may make them think again.
Satoshi Kanazawa, an "Evolutionary Psychologist," wrote a now infamously controversial article in the May 16, 2011 edition of Psychology Today. I am not linking it here because the publishers of Psychology Today have since removed the article from their site. In the article, Kanazawa claims that Black women are objectively less physically attractive than women of all other races. He explains,
There are many biological and genetic differences between the races.... 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. The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races."Kanazawa's claims are absurd on many levels. First, he predicates his assertions on a series of interviews he conducts over a seven year period with a group of Asian, Black, White, and Native American (number not disclosed) men and women. This group is neither racially diverse nor numerically vast. Kanazawa proceeds to survey their responses about attractiveness of so-called random photos of men and women of different races. This factor analysis is the basis of his claim. Next, Kanazawa never considers that most races are attracted to people who physically resemble them. A discerning reader is left with more questions than answers. How attractive were the people depicted in the photos? And isn't attractiveness subjective anyway? Did Kanazawa purposely choose photos of Black women that were slightly or considerably less attractive than the photos of non-Black women? How many test subjects were there? Were the test subjects all chosen from the same geographical location, discourse community, age group (in order to determine objectivity)? Were the test subjects all Kanazawa's fellow "evolutionary psychologist" friends? Did Kanazawa invent the whole thing in order to create more controversy and in turn more notoriety for himself? Or did his personal racism shape his scientific inquiry? We may never know. But what we do know is that the subjects of the study could not have been looking at the photos of the beautiful Black women above.
Kanazawa's brand of "evolutionary psychology" conspicuously resembles its 19th century predecessor - Eugenics - reshaped and repackaged for a 21st century audience of new racial egocentrics. Eugenics, popularized in the 19th century, is the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding in order to achieve genetically desirable outcomes. Just as the doctors in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study assumed that black men were genetically criminal, insane, sexually depraved, and moronic, so now do evolutionary psychologists contend that Black women are genetically ugly and Black men are aesthetically pleasing but still genetically stupid.
I challenge my students to examine the contemporary world around them, and how that world is shaped by old ideologies so deeply interwoven in the fabric of America that they are almost invisible.