Mommy, Can I Be a Brown Baby? (May 22, 2011)

On May 16, Psychology Today ran a “piece” on its The Scientific Fundamentalist – A Look at the Hard Truths About Human Nature blog, entitled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” The “writer,” Satoshi Kanazawa, purports to offer a scientifically–based argument that proves that African-American women are less aesthetically pleasing than women of other races.

Let’s skip the obvious part where I call this author’s methodology into question, or where I might ask why Psychology Today would choose to run such an incendiary column in the first place.

Instead we’ll harken back to a five year-old Becky Sarwate, who in the throes of uncorrupted maturation, apparently never got the memo that black people were supposed to be physically inferior. For that was the age where, having spent a day wandering about the streets of Chicago, running errands with my mother, I asked her the following question: “Mommy, can I be a brown baby?”

My mom was used to these types of questions, having had to explain to me where babies come from – long before she might have been ready – after I drew a penis on a human figure in my kindergarten class. My patient teacher figured I might be a little ahead of my time and encouraged my mother, an RN nurse, to break out the medical books.

But the question about whether or not I could be a “brown baby” stemmed, not from scientific curiosity, but from envy and appreciation. I thought the brown babies were cuter – plain and simple. I didn’t see much to love about my own pasty white, nearly see-through skin, wild, tangly hair and frankly, I found the brown babies’ parents more attractive than my own too. I wanted a piece of that.

Mom once again exhibited limitless patience as we had a long talk about Genetics 101: that people had no say in the color of their own skin, eyes or hair. It was the luck of the genetic draw, based on the dominants and recessives that parents brought to the table. While that didn’t seem right, it appeared this truth was mine to accept and I went about the rest of my childhood, understanding that I would never be a brown baby but secretly wishing that I could reverse my racial fortunes.

I offer this anecdote because I wonder is Kanazawa ever considered the possibility that attraction to a race or set of features might be a nurture issue, as opposed to nature. I don’t believe there’s anything congenital about an aversion to color. Without reviewing hundreds of years of black American subjugation, isn’t it more than possible that these responses, which seem to “validate” the physical inferiority of the African-American woman, are socialized?



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