Cultural Appreciation

19 Jun

I get really leery really fast when people try to talk to me about how beautiful mixed race people are. And that New York Times article made me all kinds of leery.

The Beautiful Stereotypes study seems to validate the notion that mixed race people are seen as more attractive than other people. Considering previous psychological research that has shown that ‘average’ faces tend to be rated more attractive than others, I can see some truth in that. The biological basis of attractiveness seems to be rooted in markers of favorable genetics – an average looking face being one of these markers. However, the author notes in their discussion section that there is a possibility of the mere identification of oneself as mixed race may have lead the interviewers to think these people were more attractive. They note that the identification may have been seen as ‘exotic’ and therefore more interesting and more desirable.

And a fascination with the exotic is not something that is unheard of in our culture. If we consider the popularity of ‘Navajo’ accessories, ‘Asian inspired’ evening wear, ‘urban’ street wear in the fashion industry alone, it becomes pretty clear that exoticism is a commodity. The New York Times claims that the race play that various celebrities are seen performing is indicative of a greater interest in other cultures and a shift toward more inclusive beauty ideals. I’m a little more cynical.

For one thing, cultural appropriation is definitely not a positive thing. It decontextualizes and devalues powerful cultural and religious symbols into costumes that white people can ‘play native’ in. For another, I don’t believe that the beauty industry’s fascination with mixed race models is all about equal representation. I believe that capitalism thrives on a sense of novelty and luxury, and white people have a long and storied history of appropriating aspects of an oppressed group to satisfy that need for novelty (Victorian Orientalism? Ghetto Fabulous? Trashy Chic?). And I am NOT a novelty. Which is why I’m not buying what the NYT is trying to sell.

(Also, can I talk about how much I hate being called a ‘racial hybrid?’ WTFISTHAT? It sounds so awful and inhuman, like a breed of hydrangea. Just stop, NYT. Stop.)

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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


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