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February 14, 2003

I'm shocked!

Someone just commented on our threads on African-American beauty (scroll down to Terms of Endearment-I couldn't figure out permlinks-Update, Gwen gave me the permlink, lazy me):


Maybe I am too sheltered here in Oakland, but, man, my jaw is hanging down around my knees, and it's not just one or two old nerds' club MIT grads saying this stuff; every single comment is like that.

Now, the blogger is rather civil, though she seemed so shocked that she put a little too much stock in our racialist inclinations (implying that those of us at Gene Expression would oppose interracial relations). I am a bit wary of talking about loaded topics like African-American beauty because like it or not, humans tend to be imbued with almost Hellenic instincts to equate physical perfection with moral worth. But, that being said, though I'm sorry that the blogger in question was shocked, plenty of people talk about this stuff in private-good liberal people that don't have racist intentions. Not mooting it in public won't make it go away-and I think the commenters were rather civil (with an exception or two), even if the content could be construed to be incendiary....

Update: Hey, I'm reproducing Jason Malloy's comment on the message board here-pretty good & all that. Also, one thing that I get annoyed about is that some people (not necessarily Gwen-but often they use the word "ignorant" so it reminded me of the tendency) will disagree with easily empirically verifiable facts. I once mentioned offhand at a party that homosexual males tend to be more sexually promiscuous than homosexual females. I can't see how you can disagree with this statement, but I ended up having to endure 15-20 minutes of berating by lesbians expressing how "ignorant" my generalization was. I honestly felt like someone was telling me that I was a moron for thinking that the sky was blue, it was only my subjective perception and Western influenced interpretation of the wavelength as blue....

Anyway, Jason's post:

[Jason's long-ass message to Gwen]

Personally, I'm not too sure what the larger contention here is: social ettiquette or belief in wrong things? Were a "majority" of the comments "particularly offensive" because they were counterfactual or b/c 'good moral people just don't speak of such things'. I would contest both.

I contest the first, not b/c everything everyone said in those threads can be said to be 100% verifiable, but b/c people generally played by the rules. If I were to say that all Asian women were quiet and subservient, that would be an ignorant claim, b/c it can be easily disproven. But if I were to claim or imply that many Asian women were quiet and subservient, that doesn't necessarily make it true, but it certainly doesn't make it ignorant unless someone can point to some ready and overwhelming evidence that Asian women are not relatively more quiet and subservient. If neither side has this overwhelming evidence, then neither side is "ignorant" in their opposite conclusions, just working off of competing default assumptions created by respective accumulations of anecdotal evidence. If gwen has met enough peppy, independent Asian girls to give her the feeling that Asian girls, are in fact no more quiet and subservient, in general, than the average American girl, then her opinion is expected and uncontroversial, even if it might not be accurate. But that goes both ways, gwen. If in my experience I meet enough quiet/subservient Asian girls, I might begin to sense a pattern. But what holds true for my necessarily limited experience might not hold true in the larger sense. But my hypothetical assumptions were reached in the same generally accumulated way as yours. "Ignorance" isn't a fair word if it is not applied fairly. A Holocaust denier and a Creationist are genuinely ignorant people. They are ignorant because the data exists to contradict their claims, and it is voluminous, readily available, and not easily open, in its totality, to better interpretation. In other words what you call "perfectly self-explanatory examples of gross stereotypical generalizations" might not be as gross as you think they are. Saying that young people commit more violent crime than old people, or that men are generally taller than women might be "gross stereotypical generalizations" but that doesn't make the contentions false, offensive or ignorant. Similarly, if the statements you selected are what you feel are some of the best examples of ignorant generalizations made here, then I think you have judged us entirely unfairly, or at least much too harshly. I'll run through the comments and tell you why:

"Many blue collar American blacks live on fast food and packaged junk food like doughnuts. Sometimes I think they'd be much slimmer and healthier if they just had time to cook."

Which you contested by saying: "note: black factory workers do not all live on doughnuts"

But that wasn't really fair, duende didn't say "all", she said "many", which is much more reasonable word. Second, its even more odd b/c duende's assumptions were, even if not true, fairly reasonable. There is overwhelming evidence that obesity and SES are inversely related. Lower SES means more cheap pre-packaged sweets and fats and less healthy eating. Unless you want to argue that blacks are an exception to this, or that blacks aren't disproportionately lower class, why would you think duende's statement was ignorant in the least? (In fact, "More than 60% of African Americans are overweight, compared to 54% of the general U.S. population", which actually means that AAs are less likely to be obese than whites if we control for SES (actually if we look at the figures black men are probably less likely than white men to become obese if we controled for SES, but black women have an exceptionally odd curve which suggests a genetic component to me.)

"All women like darker skinned men." Was the next statement on your list.

This one you had more of a case on in statements that were poorly concieved, but your outrage was still misplaced for a couple of good reasons. First b/c you altered the statement, leaving out an important qualifier. The actual statement was "It se[e]ms to me that all women like darker skinned men.", which dramatically changes the tenor of the claim. He freely admitted the claim was anecdotal. The second reason I find it unfair, is b/c we are not an exclusive club here, but a free forum open to the public. The person who said that was just one more person with an opinion, and it is not necessary for you to judge the forum by any one person or any one opinion expressed in the comment box, b/c any person with any opinion can (and does) come and talk here. The black male who posted that comment was a first time contributer, and I appreciated his comments, and hope he will continue to join in the discussions here, as I feel the perspective blacks (he might not have been AA) can add here, is invaluable. The third reason is b/c women as a general rule do prefer darker skinned men, so the claim was reasonable in general truthfulness if not in a rigidly literal way (and it can be reasonably assumed that the author knew that there was exceptions to his "all". Sloppy expression doesn't deserve the level of scrutiny you are giving it). Scientists Pierre van de Berghe and Peter Frost found that men were darker than women in all cultures surveyed. Skin tone, like shoulder width and curviness of hips, is just one more important trait in sexual selection. So ogunsiron wasn't too far off.

"The biggest problem that Orientals have in conforming to the Western facial aesthetic is the higher tendency toward flat noses."

To which you replied "many Asians aren't burdened by the need to conform to Western aesthetics, even here in the U.S."

But that was a non sequitur objection, b/c this is not something that is necessarily excluded from the statement quoted. The statement was not "All Asian women try to conform to european beauty" but that "Asian women who try have trouble conforming to european beauty due to the different shape of their face." And, as you have stated- Are particular ideals of beauty spoon-fed?: ...."Duh".

"Maybe one day we'll all be an ideal universal color... somewhere between white and black."

Personally, I am having the most trouble understanding why you included this statement in your list of things that were supposed to be ignorant or offensive. How is it either? The purpose of this stock anti-racist phrase, is the hope that one day we will all be so intermixed that human races will no longer exist and the idea will no longer be there to divide humanity. Of the statements you have quoted it is the one I disagree with the most (the diversity of humanity is one of my greatest joys, I'm glad you take pleasure in it too), but it is also the one that has the least to do with statements of truth- it was a statement of hope and desire. Someone can say that one day they hope nuclear weapons will cease to exist, and while I may disagree with the feasibility or even desirability of such a comment, I would hardly, in good conscience, use it against somebody. But that is exactly what you did.

So, as you can see, I feel that accusing the entire blog/forum GnXp of ignorance was a genuinely unfair way to represent us publicly on your website. I feel that there is a fair and demonstratable amount of intellectual integrity here. You are certainly free to write whatever you want about us or to feel about us how you may, but I feel it was unfair.

Perhaps your other complaint, even granting that we aren't guilty of saying things that are untrue, is that we are not discussing anything important, and are still sufficiently guilty enough for criticism simply for being base or offensive. I can't argue with this charge so much, as it is a pretty subjective thing. Obviously anybody can find any subject they want offensive. Generally I'm of the opinion that taboos cause greater harm and promote greater shame and ignorance than they help alleviate. We discuss topics such as beauty and race here precisely b/c there is no where else that Asians, Blacks, and Whites can come together and candidly, and respectfully discuss such things. We are not here to police the opinions in our comment box, but to make a place where people can come and discuss things that relate to how we are all different. That includes cultural and genetic differences, real or supposed, that are intolerently driven out of "polite" conversation elsewhere.

I'm not telling you what to think gwen, it's just that I feel that gnxp is often unfairly characterized by others, and I wish you could give the people and the subject matter here a little more credit both morally and intellectually.

Posted by razib at 02:27 PM




Gwen, is that her name? She is an exceptional writer and artist. I had fun navigating her site, and I found something kind of cool when I clicked on the banner at the top:

Thurgood Marshall tried and won the 1954 Brown v. Board case, then became the first black justice to sit on the Supreme Court, and did a fucking awesome job. I used to keep a framed picture of him on my wall, and sometimes got asked if he was my grandfather. I sometimes said yes.

I am fairly close friends with Thurgood Marshall's grand-daughter. Her name is Cecilia and we (recently)went to college together. Her photography is quite beautiful.

Posted by: Jason M. at February 14, 2003 04:36 PM


is she the result of his first marriage or second? i was reading how the NAACP was worried how his marriage to a filipina would be controversial-but no one cared....

Posted by: razib at February 14, 2003 04:47 PM


This femme called us "nerds' club MIT grads". MIT, me? I'd fall on my knees and kiss the ground!

Posted by: duende at February 14, 2003 06:17 PM


there is one person with a guest account who is a grad student @ MIT. but-doubt he'll ever blog-what he has in intellect he lacks in courage :)

Posted by: razib at February 14, 2003 06:40 PM


1. I meant that the comments had my jaw dropping (firmly recovered now, thankyou), not the posts themselves. Sorry that's not clearer.

2. I never said anything about perceiving any sort of anti-miscegenational stance on the part of you or your readers; I know you all secretly lust after the sista booty. And my contention is not with the base discussions (whether or not there is a caste color system firmly in place and particular ideals we're spoonfed and spend way too much of our time dealing with (duh, and duh)).

What shocked me -- and I am perfectly well aware that people say these sorts of things all the time amongst themselves -- was that a group of such obviously intelligent, educated people were making these statements in a public forum under the guise of having an academic discussion.

Perhaps I should have given an explanation of why the I found direct quotes I used particularly offensive and good, clear examples of the general timbre of majority of the rest of the comments, but there's that sheltered thing again; I thought the quotes I used were perfectly self-explanatory examples of gross stereotypical generalizations (note: black factory workers do not all live on doughnuts; different women like different things, including lighter-skinned men; many Asians aren't burdened by the need to conform to Western aesthetics, even here in the U.S.; and, I don't know about you, but I'm not really digging on the whole homogenization ideal, no matter what Bulworth says).

As far as "coded": prefacing your statements (and I'm not talking about opinions about your personal preferences here; "I like" is not the same thing as "everyone likes") with "one of my very good friends is..." or "she was obviously (something besides what I am saying I don't like)" doesn't make it any less of a stereotype you're pushing there, buddy. Using broad language to gloss over your deepest dirty little subconscious does not excuse your ignorance. The fact that you are a liberal with good intentions does not make you any less of a bigot.

3. The tangent on 'nigger' was not in reference to anything you said; it was simile comparing coming across the black chicks/beauty posts being like coming across the word "nigger" while reading my daughter Kipling's Jungle Stories, which is what the majority of my post is about. I just used you guys as a lead-in. Suckers.

4. I didn't mean MIT as a compliment; Daddy went to Cal Tech. We don't like your kind ;P

Now, I am going to go back to writing about my cat, boyfriend, and daughter, though I may incorporate some eyelash-fluttering in the direction of Jason M. Happy Valentine's Day.

Posted by: gwen at February 14, 2003 09:27 PM


gwen, you talk about us as we are a collective mind :) happy blogging....

Posted by: razib at February 14, 2003 10:05 PM


Gwen, most stereotypes are true most of the time, including the stereotypes about folks who go around calling those they disagree with "bigots".

Posted by: Mac at February 15, 2003 12:56 AM


[Jason's long-ass message to Gwen]

Personally, I'm not too sure what the larger contention here is: social ettiquette or belief in wrong things? Were a "majority" of the comments "particularly offensive" because they were counterfactual or b/c 'good moral people just don't speak of such things'. I would contest both.

I contest the first, not b/c everything everyone said in those threads can be said to be 100% verifiable, but b/c people generally played by the rules. If I were to say that all Asian women were quiet and subservient, that would be an ignorant claim, b/c it can be easily disproven. But if I were to claim or imply that many Asian women were quiet and subservient, that doesn't necessarily make it true, but it certainly doesn't make it ignorant unless someone can point to some ready and overwhelming evidence that Asian women are not relatively more quiet and subservient. If neither side has this overwhelming evidence, then neither side is "ignorant" in their opposite conclusions, just working off of competing default assumptions created by respective accumulations of anecdotal evidence. If gwen has met enough peppy, independent Asian girls to give her the feeling that Asian girls, are in fact no more quiet and subservient, in general, than the average American girl, then her opinion is expected and uncontroversial, even if it might not be accurate. But that goes both ways, gwen. If in my experience I meet enough quiet/subservient Asian girls, I might begin to sense a pattern. But what holds true for my necessarily limited experience might not hold true in the larger sense. But my hypothetical assumptions were reached in the same generally accumulated way as yours. "Ignorance" isn't a fair word if it is not applied fairly. A Holocaust denier and a Creationist are genuinely ignorant people. They are ignorant because the data exists to contradict their claims, and it is voluminous, readily available, and not easily open, in its totality, to better interpretation. In other words what you call "perfectly self-explanatory examples of gross stereotypical generalizations" might not be as gross as you think they are. Saying that young people commit more violent crime than old people, or that men are generally taller than women might be "gross stereotypical generalizations" but that doesn't make the contentions false, offensive or ignorant. Similarly, if the statements you selected are what you feel are some of the best examples of ignorant generalizations made here, then I think you have judged us entirely unfairly, or at least much too harshly. I'll run through the comments and tell you why:

"Many blue collar American blacks live on fast food and packaged junk food like doughnuts. Sometimes I think they'd be much slimmer and healthier if they just had time to cook."

Which you contested by saying: "note: black factory workers do not all live on doughnuts"

But that wasn't really fair, duende didn't say "all", she said "many", which is much more reasonable word. Second, its even more odd b/c duende's assumptions were, even if not true, fairly reasonable. There is overwhelming evidence that obesity and SES are inversely related. Lower SES means more cheap pre-packaged sweets and fats and less healthy eating. Unless you want to argue that blacks are an exception to this, or that blacks aren't disproportionately lower class, why would you think duende's statement was ignorant in the least? (In fact, "More than 60% of African Americans are overweight, compared to 54% of the general U.S. population", which actually means that AAs are less likely to be obese than whites if we control for SES (actually if we look at the figures black men are probably less likely than white men to become obese if we controled for SES, but black women have an exceptionally odd curve which suggests a genetic component to me.)

"All women like darker skinned men." Was the next statement on your list.

This one you had more of a case on in statements that were poorly concieved, but your outrage was still misplaced for a couple of good reasons. First b/c you altered the statement, leaving out an important qualifier. The actual statement was "It se[e]ms to me that all women like darker skinned men.", which dramatically changes the tenor of the claim. He freely admitted the claim was anecdotal. The second reason I find it unfair, is b/c we are not an exclusive club here, but a free forum open to the public. The person who said that was just one more person with an opinion, and it is not necessary for you to judge the forum by any one person or any one opinion expressed in the comment box, b/c any person with any opinion can (and does) come and talk here. The black male who posted that comment was a first time contributer, and I appreciated his comments, and hope he will continue to join in the discussions here, as I feel the perspective blacks (he might not have been AA) can add here, is invaluable. The third reason is b/c women as a general rule do prefer darker skinned men, so the claim was reasonable in general truthfulness if not in a rigidly literal way (and it can be reasonably assumed that the author knew that there was exceptions to his "all". Sloppy expression doesn't deserve the level of scrutiny you are giving it). Scientists Pierre van de Berghe and Peter Frost found that men were darker than women in all cultures surveyed. Skin tone, like shoulder width and curviness of hips, is just one more important trait in sexual selection. So ogunsiron wasn't too far off.

"The biggest problem that Orientals have in conforming to the Western facial aesthetic is the higher tendency toward flat noses."

To which you replied "many Asians aren't burdened by the need to conform to Western aesthetics, even here in the U.S."

But that was a non sequitur objection, b/c this is not something that is necessarily excluded from the statement quoted. The statement was not "All Asian women try to conform to european beauty" but that "Asian women who try have trouble conforming to european beauty due to the different shape of their face." And, as you have stated- Are particular ideals of beauty spoon-fed?: ...."Duh".

"Maybe one day we'll all be an ideal universal color... somewhere between white and black."

Personally, I am having the most trouble understanding why you included this statement in your list of things that were supposed to be ignorant or offensive. How is it either? The purpose of this stock anti-racist phrase, is the hope that one day we will all be so intermixed that human races will no longer exist and the idea will no longer be there to divide humanity. Of the statements you have quoted it is the one I disagree with the most (the diversity of humanity is one of my greatest joys, I'm glad you take pleasure in it too), but it is also the one that has the least to do with statements of truth- it was a statement of hope and desire. Someone can say that one day they hope nuclear weapons will cease to exist, and while I may disagree with the feasibility or even desirability of such a comment, I would hardly, in good conscious, use it against somebody. But that is exactly what you did.

So, as you can see, I feel that accusing the entire blog/forum GnXp of ignorance was a genuinely unfair way to represent us publicly on your website. I feel that there is a fair and demonstratable amount of intellectual integrity here. You are certainly free to write whatever you want about us or to feel about us how you may, but I feel it was unfair.

Perhaps your other complaint, even granting that we aren't guilty of saying things that are untrue, is that we are not discussing anything important, and are still sufficiently guilty enough for criticism simply for being base or offensive. I can't argue with this charge so much, as it is a pretty subjective thing. Obviously anybody can find any subject they want offensive. Generally I'm of the opinion that taboos cause greater harm and promote greater shame and ignorance than they help alleviate. We discuss topics such as beauty and race here precisely b/c there is no where else that Asians, Blacks, and Whites can come together and candidly, and respectfully discuss such things. We are not here to police the opinions in our comment box, but to make a place where people can come and discuss things that relate to how we are all different. That includes cultural and genetic differences, real or supposed, that are intolerently driven out of "polite" conversation elsewhere.

I'm not telling you what to think gwen, it's just that I feel that gnxp is often unfairly characterized by others, and I wish you could give the people and the subject matter here a little more credit both morally and intellectually.

Posted by: Jason M. at February 15, 2003 01:55 PM


I want to give props to Jason Malloy for a brilliant and civil take- down of Gwen.

Posted by: -R at February 15, 2003 02:57 PM


I don't want to think of it as a take-down -R, as my recent experience with David shows, I should refrain from "take-down" behavior. I just think issues of race often involve a lot of strong emotions that can cloud peoples judgement. I think gwen, unlike say Bennett, seems like a fair-minded person, I'm just trying to appeal to that.

Posted by: Jason M. at February 15, 2003 03:15 PM


well-i think we can all agree if (us = us - 4 years) had stumbled onto this site, our first reaction would be WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!. it took me probably about a year to be comfortable saying some of the things that i say now (though intellectually i made my peace much quicker-but the heart wants to believe what it wants to believe).

Posted by: razib at February 15, 2003 03:29 PM


Hey gwen there's no secret about lusting after black booty. Give me Miss Barbados on her tropical isle and I'm in heaven.

I have to question (as I think Jason does) why you think the discussion should not take place. You obviously have had discussions similar to these by your own statements. Furthermore, these discussions do take place in public forums all the time. Aesthetics of beauty is a common subject in sociological discussion forums among other places.

Feel free to take part. Feel free to call us on something you don't like. But don't say we shouldn't talk about it, or that you're shocked to read it. Obviously your ears/eyes are not virginal in this regard.

David

Posted by: David at February 15, 2003 06:30 PM