Category Archives: race

[Thursday Throwback]: How to Debunk Pseudo-Science Articles about Race in Five Easy Steps

by Latoya Peterson

This was originally published on 5-17-2011

PhD Comics
Justifying racism using “science” isn’t new, by any means. Every few years, it appears that someone needs to provide a rationale for bigotry, so they publish some sort of madness and hope most of the readers suffer from scientific illiteracy. The problem is that even with a thorough debunking, people latch on to articles like this to confirm their own biases. So, if you are suddenly confronted with racist foolishness masquerading as science, here is how to respond. Since it’s here, let’s use the Psychology Today article (available in full here) as an example.
Look at the Methodology

Whenever you hear the word “study,” start checking for the methodology. Oftentimes, a methodology will reveal more about the study than the summarized results.

A good example of this is a study we were alerted to a year or so ago. The Daily Mail covered a scientific study which proposed that racism may be hard wired into our brains. However, there was an obvious flaw in the study:

All the viewers were white but the researchers believe the results would still have been similar with any other group.

Now, this study wasn’t using basic things, like a sample representative of population. Yet the study authors felt confident in applying the results to everyone.

The same issue pops up in Satoshi Kanazawa’s piece. He actually doesn’t refer to his own research, but another study. And he doesn’t link to the other study, assuming that all readers will know the term “Add Health.” What he refers to is a rigorous, national study…about teen development and health.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (also known as Add Health, the Add Health Study, and the Add Health Survey) is a nationally representative study originally designed to examine how social contexts (such as families, friends, peers, schools, neighborhoods, and communities) influence teens’ health and risk behaviors. The study is now examining how health changes over the course of early adulthood. [...]

The Add Health Study surveyed 90,000 7th to 12th graders, and has re-interviewed the same group of teens as they age. The study is made public to assist others studying adolescent health, and collects information on the following:

What kinds of topics does the study address?
The study collects information on:

*Physical and mental health, such as weight and height, injury and disability, dietary patterns and physical activity, substance use, access to and use of health care services, and suicide and depression
*Interpersonal relationships and sexual behaviors, such as family relationships, friendships, interracial relationships, faith community interactions, sexual activity, and sexual orientation
*Education, including cognitive ability and individual, family, peer, and community influences on school performance
*Delinquency and violence, including individual, family, peer, and community influences on delinquency and violence and risk factors for delinquency and violence
*Involvement in adult roles, including parenthood, jobs, marriage
*Genetic characteristics and biological measures that indicate the presence of specific diseases and disease processes
*Measures of the environments in which participants live and go to school

So this study provides a lot of data on the lives of teens. However, Kanazawa tries to pull information that wasn’t intended to be studied from the report, with no further discussion or references, and present it as fact. (In fact, would you know what the Add Health study was intended to do if we didn’t look it up?) Problematic, to say the least.

We had issues with Allure’s report on the changing face of beauty in the United States, but at least their methodology was much more clear – we knew how many people were surveyed, the images of the models they were shown, what questions they were asked, and how that compared to a similar survey done twenty years ago.
Interrogate the Author of the Study

Kanazawa calls himself “The Scientific Fundamentalist,” and claims to take “a Hard Look at the Truths of Human Nature.” His other articles include things like “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes,” “Beautiful People Really ARE More Intelligent,” “What I Have Learned from Barry Goldwater,” and this statement on Eva Longoria and Tony Parker’s divorce:

Yes, I called it, nearly two years ago. I knew their marriage was very short-lived long before they themselves did. Once again, such is the power of the evolutionary psychological imagination. We know everything, not because we are special, but because we are evolutionary psychologists.

I’m a Mac, and I predict events before they happen.

I’m afraid to click the links for that rationale.

Amazingly, Kanazawa’s work fits neatly into this bingo card, created by the Punk Ass Blog:

EvoPsych Bingo Card

Check for Scientific Racism

Wikipedia has a very useful summary (and a few interesting convos on the talk page) dealing with Scientific Racism. But the clearest example is actually found on the Wikipedia page for The Bell Curve, where an intrepid Wikipedian added a debunking guide for racist misapplications of science:

Evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Graves described the Bell Curve as an example of racist science, containing all the types of errors in the application of scientific method that have characterized the history of Scientific racism:

  • claims that are not supported by the data given
  • errors in calculation that invariably support the hypothesis
  • no mention of data that contradicts the hypothesis
  • no mention of theories and data that conflict with core assumptions
  • bold policy recommendations that are consistent with those advocated by racists.[38]

Be Wary of People Trying to Quantify What is Subjective

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And yet, every few years, someone tries to prove that x is definitively more attractive than y group. The closest science has been able to come to anything remotely resembling consensus is a link between symmetry and facial attractiveness.

Everything else is informed by personal preferences, how one interprets beauty, and cultural messages about beauty – which again, do change. What was beautiful in the 1980s and 1990s isn’t necessarily valued today. And globally, the idea of beauty shifts often. So trying to definitively state what is attractive and what is not is a bit of a losing game.

Remember that race is a social construct

Racebox.org shows how these alleged racial categories have changed over time. Here’s who you could be in 1890:

1890 Census
1940:

1940 Census
and 1970:

1970 Census
Combine that with the shifting categories of “black” and “white” and how people have been included and excluded based on political whims, and trying to explain definitive differences becomes an exercise in futility.

Related:

White People Swim, and Black People Run? Race, Science, and Athletics - Racialicious
Scientific Findings are not Public Service Announcements - Restructure
Interview with Joseph L. Graves - Addicted to Race
Guest Rant: Joseph L. Graves - Addicted to Race
James Watson’s Racism - Addicted to Race

(Image via PhD Comics, by Jorge Cham)

Thanks to readers Ruthi, Karen, and Lorenzo for sending in copies of the article!

Quoted: “Black Girls’ Zero-Sum Struggle”

Sasha and Malia Obama, image via Salon.com

Black women remain caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of hyperinvisibility and invisibility. Everyone thinks that they know everything there is to know about us, but based on facts alone, very little is actually known. And what we don’t know can hurt us – is hurting us. What we fail to acknowledge is that images of black and brown women drive a startlingly large amount of social policy. Disdain toward supposedly irresponsible black and brown women – welfare queens as those on the right derisively call them – is at the heart of the right’s continued unfeeling push toward austerity. This same disdain toward disproportionately black and brown female wage laborers undoubtedly informs the national resistance to raising the minimum wage. Images of “dastardly” brown women crossing our borders illegally in order to drop anchor babies drives immigration policy.

And the exceptionalism of Michelle Obama and her daughters frankly doesn’t help matters. Black women themselves become complicit in this pushing of ourselves to the background, marshaled there by our mythic belief in our own strength, our unresolved traumas over fathers who failed to meet expectations, our self-sacrificial love for black men, and our deep desires to respectably conform to the American nuclear ideal. Michelle Obama makes many black women long for this return to tradition.

There are no easy answers here. Black and brown men’s needs and lives matter. And I’m glad we have a president sensitive to those needs. But as Mychal Denzel Smith argued, “The path to equality for Black and Brown people [cannot be] to uphold patriarchy.” And as Dani McClainargues, it seems that women and girls simply have no place in this new set of initiatives.  Beyond the problems of using personal responsibility and philanthropy as models to solve a deeply systemic set of social problems, the failure to imagine the struggles of men and women of color as linked together is perhaps the most short-sighted aspect of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

“Black girls’ zero-sum struggle: Why we lose when black boys dominate the discourse” by Brittney Cooper via Salon.com; March 6, 2014

 

We Want You. . . To Think Just Like Us [The Throwback]

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our newest feature, The Throwback, where we’ll spotlight some of our favorite pieces from the site’s history. First up, this August 9, 2007 piece on the collisions between perceptions of race in the U.S. and South America.

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

When most people think of American imperialism, they think of planting the stars and stripes deep into the soil of foreign lands. They think of economic dominance, the forced removal of government leaders, the exploitation of labor and resources.

But what causes less protest is often a form of Ameri-centric thought that stirs in the minds of many who fight its more tangible effects: Identity Imperialism.
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‘Murican Idol: Here’s What Didn’t Get Phil Robertson Suspended from Duck Dynasty

By Arturo R. García

Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty.” Image via Facebook.

By now you’ve no doubt heard that reality “star” Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty “fame” was suspended from the show — or, in snake-oil TV-speak, placed on “indefinite hiatus” — after glibly engaging in some concern-trolling homophobia in a GQ interview while painting his show and his family’s public embrace of its Christian faith as some sort of antidote for whatever it believes ails America.

But what hasn’t been reported nearly as widely is the amount of outright racially prejudiced statements Robertson also lets fly in the piece, which points to a bigger problem for A&E. The network has been all too happy to trade on Robertson and his family’s “good ol’ boy” brand. Now it has to deal with the consequences.
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Quoted: On Beyonce and Feminism

beyonce1

I can’t believe that, as someone who a year ago could scarcely quote a Beyonce song, save “Bootylicious,” I am spending so much time defending the artist these days. But the surprise release of her “visual album,” Beyonce, has sparked a fresh round of broken criticism of the star, freighted with gender and race bias.  Understand, it is not that Beyonce, for all her power-belting, catchy hook-writing and effortless dancing, is above reproach. Once we finish getting down to “Drunk in Love,” we need to analyze the hell out of Mr. Knowles-Carter’s wack ass, Ike Turner-worshipping, violence-fetishizing contribution to the “love” track:

 

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae

Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae

 

This, right here, is all kinds of problematic and the sort of contradiction a public feminist needs to be called to task for. But, as yet, I haven’t seen many people questioning why Bey let Jay spit some nasty, misogynist shit on an album that includes the feminist brilliance of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Instead, folks are still carping about whether one can flaunt dat ass, be conventionally attractive, launch a world tour using a married moniker or be rich and successful and still be feminist.

Just so we can move the analysis along: The answer to that question is “Yes,” as I outlined in an article in Bitch magazine earlier this year:

A popular star willing to talk about gender inequity, as Beyoncé has, is depressingly rare. But Freeman insists flashes of underboob and feminist critique don’t mix. Petersen concurs, calling the thigh-baring, lace-meets-leather outfit Beyoncé wore during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show an “outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishizes the otherwise powerful female body.” A commenter on Jezebel summed up the charge: “That’s pretty much the Beyoncé contradiction right there. Lip service for female fans, fan service for the guys.”

These appraisals are perplexing amid a wave of feminist ideology rooted in the idea that women own their bodies. It is the feminism of SlutWalk, the anti-rape movement that proclaims a skimpy skirt does not equal a desire for male attention or sexual availability. Why, then, are cultural critics like Freeman and Petersen convinced that when Beyoncé pops a leather-clad pelvis on stage, it is solely for the benefit of men? Why do others think her acknowledgment of how patriarchy influences our understanding of what’s sexy is mere “lip service”?

Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”

Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”

Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.

Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways.  Read more…

Open Thread: Scandal S03E10: ‘A Door Marked Exit’

By Arturo R. García

Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) and Rowan (Joe Morton) have a heart-to-heart, of sorts, in “A Door Marked Exit.”

Oh, there was another episode left?

Well, why wait ’til Monday, then?

SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT
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What names are normal? Shifting the center of the world

By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images

1

Sociologists observe that cultures are centered around some people and  not others such that members of some groups just seem like people and others are perceived as deviations from that presumed norm.

Names are part of how we divide the world into the normals and the deviants.  Illustrating this, the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele are super creative in this 3 minute skit.  They reverse the white-teacher-goes-into-the-inner-city trope and put a non-white teacher into a suburban school.  As he calls roll, the skit center HIS reality instead of that of the white, middle class kids.  He pronounces their names like stereotypically black names, confusing the heck out of the kids, and never considering the possibility that the names he’s familiar with isn’t how all names really are.

It’s not a safe skit — it potentially reinforces the conflation of non-white and urban and the stereotypes of inner city students and the names low-income black parents give their kids — but it does a great job of playing with what life might be like if we shifted the center of the world.

 

Counterpoint by Tamara Winfrey Harris, Racialicious editor

I have wrestled with the popularity of this Key & Peele skit for a while. And I’m afraid, for me, that it doesn’t pass the race bias smell test. The comedy here, while it may appear “edgy,” is really business as usual. The bit doesn’t “punch up,” instead the blow lands right smack where it always does: on black cultures and, particularly, the poor, working class and urban. I agree with friend of the R, Lisa Wade, when she says the skit uniquely centers the point of view of the black teacher and his idea of “normal.” Sadly, though, that decentering of whiteness is the joke. The audience is meant to laugh at a situation where creative pronunciations of common, European-derived names is acceptable. How absurd! It’s okay if this skit makes us laugh. But we need to recognize how and why it is problematic.

FYI, Key & Peele have a habit of going to the funny black name well.