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February 08, 2003

"Black" chicks

Recently someone on the message boards has been disputing the notion that there is a general preference in this country-amongst both blacks & whites- for light-skinned more "European" looking women to represent "African American" beauty. Now, I'm still not convinced, but the poster has been rather civil, so I think their case deserves a hearing. Does anyone have a list of the top earning black female actresses, models, etc? I just tried to google it, and have come up empty. I was bombarded by too many pop-ups when I tried to look for black porn sites.

Anyway, I am sincere in trying to find out the truth here-because part of this site's raison d'Ítre is to question "conventional wisdom." Perhaps our premise is wrong, and "the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice"?

Posted by razib at 09:20 PM

The benefit of darker skin is that it resists sun-induced wrinkling better. As others have mentioned, there are no absolute standards of beauty. What I had mentioned in my posts about black men desiring ligher skinned women only applies necessarily to people in America; but I think that in some parts of Africa a light skinned woman is viewed as being a freak. That would make sense especially in a society where people are in the sun all the time-- light colored skin would be associated with women who are most likely to get wrinkles (or skin cancer).

So certainly, darker skin would be preferred over light skin in some societies. America just isn't one of those societies. The same thing applies to the skinny body type that is considered ideal in America. There are societies where a relatively thicker shape is ideal, but America just isn't one of those societies.

(Honestly, I'm not trying to be mean to dark skinned women here, that's just the reality-- being able to speak frankly about these types of things is the whole point of this website after all.) Also, of course dark skinned women can be viewed as being gorgeous. Having darker skin means that the woman needs to have a better body shape and face than a ligher skinned woman she is compared to.

Posted by: WD at February 8, 2003 10:02 PM

1) women of all races tend to be somewhat lighter in complexion than males (10% so)

2) there was a recent article about the prevelance in kenya of skin lightening cremes. this might be cultural imperialism, but we shouldn't presume that it is simply an american thing. also, one thing to remember is that relative coloration is a factor. my parents, being brown-skinned south asians tend to find olive/brunette white skin the ideal, lighter than their mean, but pink/northern european white skin tends to be a little to light for their tastes. a jamaican man once told me that he would love to have my medium brown complexion (he was rather darker than i), but i am probably right in the middle of the south asian spectrum, no one would envy my coloration in that somewhat fairer context.

complex issue. but again, the main point, is our axiom that far off the mark? is the preference for light-skinned african american women a delusion in our minds?

Posted by: razib at February 8, 2003 10:30 PM

There's a look that you don't see much among African American women but when you do it's very distinctive and quite spectacular: I call it the black lady Olympic sprinter physique. Check out the veteran Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who went to 6 Olympics. The look includes very narrow but very deep (in the 3rd dimension) hips.

There are also a variety of northeast African looks that are rare in America but quite memorable. There's the ultra black, super-elongated Dinka/Nuer fashion model (e.g., Alek Wek), the somewhat elongated black but with semi-Arabic featured Somali model (Imam), and there are some part Arab Ethiopian tribes who tend toward great beauty (I forget which tribe but Evelyn Waugh was quite smitten with their women).

Posted by: Steve Sailer at February 8, 2003 11:09 PM

A very close friend of mine is a Muslim Ethiopian. His ex- fiance (dumped her b/c she was too timid/ shy for a less hot but boisterous chick from the same country) was a fairly hot Ethiopian chick. I usually don't go for 'black' chicks, but this chick had some obvious Arabic blood and looked almost like a hot Indian. He says that Ethiopians/ Eritreans are 'cross bloods' with Arabic. When we discussed this matter once he made an effort to separate his groups with American Blacks. He, for example, said when Ethiopians had kids with Whites, the kids wouldn't come out looking bi-racial, but would be basically White looking. I met other Ethiopians through him, and I had some doubts about his premise applying to all Ethiopians/ Eritreans. He had obvious Arabic blood by his face(also, his hair was actually fairly straight- although I may have thought that just cause he cut it short and did whatever else with it). But, other Ethiopians I've seen, including one of his brothers, looked fairly indistinguishable from most American Blacks.

Posted by: -R at February 9, 2003 12:57 AM

ok, from the neutral markers from what i remember-partly from cavalli-sforza, the ethiopians have some fairly ancient links with the khoisan along the mtDNA. but the y-chromosome suggests ties with "caucasoids"-and possible flow back & forth along the littoral of southern asia up to & including india (remember that axum was a trading power). additionally, the high mountainous conditions of ethiopia almost certainly created physical conditions that applied selective pressures.
from this website.

Superhaplotypes were constructed and parsimony analysis was carried out to produce trees.
Only 5.4% of the mtDNAs were Caucasoid, whereas 25.4% of the Y chromosomes had a clear Caucasoid origin. This suggests that Caucasoid gene flow into the Ethiopian gene pool was predominantly through males. Conversely the Niger-Congo contribution occured mainly through females.
The population also seems to contain African components which cannot be completely explained by that of present day Niger-Congo speakers, and so a portion of the gene pool may be the product of in situ differentiation from an ancestral gene pool. They also found a high frequency (20%) of an Asian mtDNA haplotype that has never been observed in mtDNA from African or Caucasoid lineages. This could have been acquired through interchanges of Ethiopians with Asians, or could have been present in the ancient Ethiopian population and was carried by groups who migrated out of Africa. This would support the hypothesis of an early exit of Homo sapiens sapiens from Africa via the eastern Africa-western India route.

but from what i know, the semitic speaking peoples of highland ethiopia/eritria (ahmara, tigre, tigray) do consider themselves superior to the more stereotypical african people to their east and south. the cushitic speaking peoples like the somalis and afar probably have a middle position, they are darker than ethiopians, but share the same "thin" features-and if you read anything about the treatment of the quasi-slave bantu caste in somalia you will know they too are guilty of racism against those who do not look like them and are outside the clan structure.

of course, the irony is that the people of southern arabia that serve as the main cultural trading partners with the ethiopian complex consider the peoples across the red sea and gulf of aden "black."

we are all someone's "nigger."

on a personal note, i remember going to a talk on affirmative action back in college, and one "black" girl was very vocal in bringing up ideas that elicited cat-calls from most of the crowd, especially the small but vocal contingent of black students. she started out by giving culturalist conservative reasons why affirmative action was a solution for a symptom, but started to veer into sociobiology and even race realism. she was sitting on the other side of the hall, but i could tell though her complexion was dark, and she wasn't indian (she had very curly hair), she didn't look like a typical black student, even the mixed-race ones. later, i ran into her at the college bookstore and i got a close look at her, and asked her where she was from, and turns out she was from addis ababa, but her family had come as refugees to the states when she was ten. we had coffee, but i graduated and left that town soon thereafter, so we lost touch. but she certainly had little racial solidarity with american blacks, and her views were already more heterodox than mine at that time. she was pretty cute, but her intellectual fearlessness was certainly the most attractive quality about her. the same thing got her father in trouble with the communist regime back in the 80s i remember her telling me....

Posted by: razib at February 9, 2003 04:08 AM

Hey Razib, was she Christian or Muslim b/c my friend says the best looking Ethiopians are generally Christian from the highlands. Sort of like North vs. South Indian comparisons.

P.S. I am really surprised you were that intrigued by her. She must have had a hot face being 'brown' and all.

Posted by: -R at February 9, 2003 08:56 AM

When it comes to women there's only one color that counts: pink

Posted by: heywood at February 9, 2003 09:45 AM

she was christian-ahmara from the highlands. the muslims are disproportionately more likely to be cushitic speakers "R," so their physiognomy is different. the ahmara are all chrisitans. not all the tigre/tigray are, some are muslims.

anyway, she was fake brown, not real brown....

Posted by: razib at February 9, 2003 12:22 PM

Recently someone on the message boards has been disputing the notion that there is a general preference in this country-amongst both blacks & whites- for light-skinned more "European" looking women to represent "African American" beauty.

Though my kudos go out to "Too Sexy for My Skintone" for being a courteous guy, I think he is going to have a hard time supporting his perspective with evidence that goes beyond the anecdotal.

First of all, let me say this, I do not believe that "black=ugly". I've tried to hit it with the dark chocolate many-a time before, and failed miserably. Must be the "culture" difference. Fair enough. I tend to agree with Vincent, the half-Japanese guy who linked to duende's article on feminism, when he paid tribute to the African form of the Williams sisters on MetaFilter the other day (and garnered the illustrious "comment of the day" award):

And Jesus...have you seen Serena's junk? I'd like to bite her in the ass, develop lockjaw, and be dragged to my death.

But aside from a minority of weird Japanese and white guys the general preference among all races for more European looking black women in America is well-documented. Here's a quick and pretty good summary of the data:

Skin tone bias may be expressed as a general affect-driven preference or dislike for African-Americans with specific skin tones or as stereotypes about individuals possessing light or dark skin. Specific preferences and dislikes have been found in black children (Seeman 1946, Porter 1991), adolescents (Goering 1971, Robinson & Ward 1995), and adults (Bond & Cash 1992, Hall 1992). The general trend is a preference for light African-Americans and dislike for dark individuals...

The strange thing about "Too Sexy", is that African-Americans are usually pretty quick to reference America's "color caste system" as an indictment of the pervasiveness of American racism. Almost all of the sources I can find on the Internet supporting our perception come from black sources:

Skin Games: Color and Skin Tone in the Black Community
Race and Media*

Finally, the most highly recommended book on the subject seems to be The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans. The chapter on the media is unfortunately not online, but the one on slavery is.

Whether or not this system of preference is due to racism, ideas entrenched from times of greater racism, or something non-racism related is open to dispute, but its existence, I'm afraid, is not.


Update 10/13/03 - I've noticed that since the last time I've seen this thread, all my links have disappeared into thin air. This bothers me b/c I like to support my arguments when I say things. I've replaced all the ones I remember/ could find. I have marked the ones I couldn't with a '*'.

- Jason M.

Posted by: Jason M. at February 9, 2003 12:41 PM

From Skin Games:
"Later, my ex-wife would explain the politics of skin color to me. She fancied herself light-skinned (whatever, man) and regaled me with tales of the trials of attending an all-black college being "red-boned." Big-boned, maybe, but looking at her I saw nearly the shade I saw in the mirror, give or take a half tone. I told her I considered myself to be of lighter skin. She rebuffed me like a doorman at some exclusive club. "You?" she exclaimed. "Light-skinned?" She laughed heartily. "Nononononono. You are Black. Blackity-Black. Don't ever tell another soul you are anything other than dirt brown!" She shook her head: "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Thanks for the excellent link, Jason. This read was hilarious.

Posted by: -R at February 9, 2003 01:52 PM

i remember reading once that africans had bigger butts because natural selection ensured that the fat was not spread over their bodies but concentrated in their butt (due to hot weather)...

i personally find the usual african female butt too big for my liking... and serena's butt is too damn big to be aesthetic...

i'd also like to mention 2 glaring errors in one of the earlier posts by Too Sexy for My Skin Tone...

He/She says "Are some of you insinuating that there are no "pure black" women who are every bit as attractive as Berry, Williams, or Carey for crying out loud??? What about Iman, Naomi Campbell,Garcelle Beauvais, etc etc etc."

Well, Naomi Campbell is not pure black... she has a white mother...

Secondly He/She also says "Most interracial women aren't anywhere near as pretty as Halle berry, most white women aren't as pretty as Halle Berry."

This is ridiculous in the extreme, everyone knows Halle Berry is interracial... she has a white mother..

Posted by: holierthanthou at February 9, 2003 05:21 PM

i thought campbell was part chinese. she seems too dark and african featured to be half-white to me.

also-iman is somali, so that was not a good example for african-american beauty-people do look different in different parts of africa....

Posted by: razib at February 9, 2003 05:33 PM

I thought I'd mention Garcelle Beauvais, Tyra Banks and the prettiest African American woman of them all...Vanessa Williams..not sure how many of these are bi-racial though
while on the subject of lighter skin ..a lot of african american women prefer lighter skinned males as well...and white women like men with a tanned look..maybe one day we'll all be an ideal universal color... somewhere between white and black...

Posted by: Pawan at February 9, 2003 05:53 PM

This is my first time posting and i will comment on a few points raised :
I thought I'd mention Garcelle Beauvais, Tyra Banks and the prettiest African American woman of them all...Vanessa Williams..not sure how many of these are bi-racial though
They probably are all multiracial, just not first generation. Personally i find tyra banks and Vanessa Williams very boring looking. I don't like "barbie look alike" beauty at all.
while on the subject of lighter skin ..a lot of african american women prefer lighter skinned males as well
Almost all the light skinned black girls i see are with much darker guys.

Posted by: ogunsiron at February 9, 2003 06:30 PM

This is the most insane website I have ever come across. What the hell is wrong with you people and where do you come from? You are the most bigoted men I think I have ever been exposed to. I happen to be a bi-racial woman writing a law review article on skin-bleaching in Africa and the duty of the government to stop the practice. I don't consider myself to be any "better" or more "beautiful" because I am the product of a white woman and a black man. It's because of men like you that dark-skin African/African American women have such low self-esteems. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I hope for your sake we never meet in person.

Posted by: D at October 12, 2003 10:16 PM

Hi D,

We just installed a feature that allows us to see when people who come in off of Google and such comment on long dead threads. Could you be more specific about what was said in this thread that you found offensive?

Before you answer, check out our discussion with Gwen, another African-American woman who took offence to this thread. I try and answer some of the confusion I think she had about our conversations on the subject.

Posted by: Jason M. at October 13, 2003 12:55 AM

It's because of men like you that dark-skin African/African American women have such low self-esteems.

Actually, studies of self-esteem show that (at least for young people) African-Americans have self-esteem as good or better than whites. See here.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. I hope for your sake we never meet in person.

Whatever. We're trying to understand the world around us. Overall male preference for paler skin is well-established and documented; seems worth speculating about the causes. The opinions and personal preferences mentioned just provide entertaining anecdotal evidence.

Posted by: bbartlog at October 13, 2003 10:25 AM

Actually, studies of self-esteem show that (at least for young people) African-Americans have self-esteem as good or better than whites. See here.

I was going to point out the same thing. Those who blame their failures on low-self esteem, believe themselves to be inately capable in ways that they have not demonstrated, and since they hold their own capabilities in such high regard, they must actually have high self esteem. This sort of behaviour used to be called egotism.

Posted by: Sporon at October 13, 2003 02:48 PM