It might be true that black men in South Africa, and maybe black women too, find white women the epitome of beauty. If it is, I blame it on apartheid. No kidding. Apartheid lives in the minds.
I know that there is a debate going in South Africa right now about when is apartheid blameworthy, and when we have to start putting the blame for the current mess in our society at the door of Luthuli House and the ANC government.
Even then, putting desirability and beauty on a scale on which white femininity (in women, not men) the most desirable and beautiful, and black women the least, is something to be found in apartheid thought. Apartheid tried, with a measure of success, to make white people, whiteness at least, desirable. The system wanted us to learn, and often managed to make both blacks and whites believe that to be black in and of itself is to be ugly, and to be whiten is to be naturally beautiful. Is it not clear why Biko and his black consciousness movement comrades taught that Black is Beautiful?
But whiteness as desirability was not an invention of apartheid, of course. Actually, in the long run apartheid was bad for the world domination of whiteness and the idea of white bodies as naturally more beautiful. Apartheid did crass, ugly whiteness as power. That is why Afrikaners, even though they may receive dividends of the ideology of whiteness as ‘better than’, at times also feel marginalised in democratic South Africa. They might be aware that they are again being relegated to a kind of second class whiteness.
Apartheid in fact inherited the ideology of whiteness as beauty from the masters, the creators of imperialism and colonialism. It was Britain and others European powers who invented the ideology of whiteness as beauty. And that ideology, and the scale of desirability and beauty it used, is continued today all over the world by the market-driven whiteness. This isn’t any kind of whiteness. It’s the whiteness of image-makers. The ad-men and -women. The fashion magazine editors, TV channels and shows, designers, hairstylists, make-over specialists. And all are in the service of capital. It’s young white bodies, long hair, no hips, no rump, waif-like Kate Moss-kind of beauty. Once in a while you will find Kim Kadarshian bums used to sell products. You will come across an old white actress or Naomi Campbell. But do look around. In a phrase, to be beautiful you may still need to be white, first. Then you need youth, good extra-white teeth, long hair, not too big a derriere.
What has stimulated these thoughts is a piece published in early April in the student newspaper of the University of Cape Town (UCT), The Varsity. The piece was titled ‘Is love colour-blind?’ Or something like that. It caused a fair share of controversy.
The article reported that most UCT students that were surveyed considered white the most attractive race and Africans the least attractive. The survey classified race into six categories: African, bi-racial, coloured, East Asian, Indian, white. Besides the fact that this doesn’t sound like a scientific, well-reasoned study, it was always bound to reproduce apartheid damage. Wasn’t racial classification the basis of apartheid, and what found and supported racism?
Another thing, the author makes an untenable distinction between biracial and coloured people. Bi-raciality is meant to be a race category and coloured a cultural category. Bi-racial individuals don’t have a culture, one assumes, and coloured people don’t have a race.
And what of Africans and whites? Are they races or cultures? When is race a biological category and when is it culture?
And then there is the crypto-essentialist assumption that there are pure races, except biracial and coloured subjects I suppose. Actually, this was a bad study, if it can be called that.
Regardless, the researcher and writer of the article asked 60 people which was the more attractive race. Ten people from each of the race categories were polled.
The article reported that only 8% of the sample found Africans attractive. Whites were found to be the most attractive.
What do parents of African children, and in fact all young and old African people, make of that?
I have some ideas. But I would like to hear what readers think about what is to be done about this idea of some races as less, or more beautiful. I do know that love has never been colour-blind, just as it has never been blind to how we look in other ways (whether we are tall or short; fat, muscular, big-breasted or thin; Afroed, blonde, smooth and silky, braided, dreaded, red-haired, wearing a wig, or short and curly). And I know how others look at us, and how we are loved, is bound up with our self-esteem.
The answer, at least one of the answers, to bad studies that recreate racial ladders of beauty, or even technically good ones, is obvious is it not. But let me keep it to myself for now.