The marketing execs at Nivea recently caught all kinds of flack for an ad they ran for their new campaign, “Look Like You Give a Damn.” The ad features a clean-shaven black man throwing a head of a black man with a fro, a beard, and a furrowed brow. The ad drives home the point with the slogan: “Re-Civilize Yourself.”
Although it’s no surprise to me that this ad has stirred up charges of “racism” from the Black community, I’m still disappointed that it has. The Urban Daily is one of many sites that have chosen sides on the controversy:
“Nivea wants black men to ‘re-civilize’ themselves by adhering to Nivea guidelines and style experts who think this is how a Black man should look.”
“The imagery coupled with the words offends me on several levels. For one, the implication that wearing an afro or beard is uncivilized is terribly ignorant. Dr. Cornel West, who sports a very prominent Afro and beard, is one of America’s foremost thinkers … you can hardly call him uncivilized.”
To even consider telling a successful black woman to ditch a multi-million dollar contract over your personal beef with Nivea is absurd. That’s hardly a decision you could make for someone else, let alone the highly unlikely chance that you would say no thank you to millions yourself.
So why do we feel the need to respond to every suspected incidence of racial offense, no matter how minor or inconsequential? And why didn’t any one of these writers acknowledge that Nivea also published an ad featuring a white man tossing the head of an untamed white face? Sometimes I feel like we, as Black people, act like an insecure teenage girl who at any given moment will be up in arms because some other girl looked at her “the wrong way” or is acting like she’s “all that.” Curtly put, this is petty people! Let’s act like grown folks and agree on a few facts:
1. If you go into a job interview with an untamed beard and long untamed hair, you will most likely not get the job, no matter how coarse or straight your hair is.
2. Dr. Cornel West, a prominent professor at Princeton University, philosopher, and activist, is unarguably a genius. He could show up in pajamas and we would still listen to what he had to say. This does not mean that if his IQ were lower, or equal to yours, he would get the job either!
3. Entrepreneurs, celebrities, and successful eccentrics are just that: exceptional! If you want to earn a living and be an individual, then you better be darn good at what you do, because, more often than not, the American workplace is a factory and we are all drones. If you want to beat the machine, you’re going to need some tools.
Once we’ve agreed on those three points we can move on to the more sensitive issues at play here. We — and I say we because I am including myself in this too — are sick of dominant culture pulling our strings and making us dance to their tune. I mean, who made them the deciders of everything anyway? Why can’t I wear my natural unkempt hair, name my child whatever ethnic name I choose, and keep it real without being considered ghetto, dangerous, or unsophisticated? This is very frustrating, and it’s a long and complex battle that most likely will only result in short victories in an already lost battle.
There are some Black people who seem to think they can actually solve this problem. To them I say, “Good luck.” But to think that this war can be won one Nivea ad or public racist misstatement at a time is a gross underestimation of the bigger issues at play.
Not every battle is worth fighting, and in this case I’m not sure there’s even a fight to be picked. Sometimes the victim becomes a bully due to the repressed anger they hold. I think Nivea was simply trying to attract a younger audience with a clever campaign. Their word choice for the black ad, “re-civilize,” is unfortunate and maybe careless, but racist is a stretch. They basically were saying young men are a bit slack when it comes to their grooming. Most young men, regardless of race, don’t like to shave or wear a tie. So it’s like a father saying, “Son, get it together! It’s time to grow up. Look like you give a damn.” It’s that simple.
The writer of “The Scientific Fundamentalist” blog for Psychology Today apparently thinks African American women are less physically attractive than women of other races, and he cited unscientific “attractiveness ratings” from a recent study to justify his bias.
In “Why Are African-American Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?,” published on May 15, evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa used scientific language and multiple graphs to back absurd statements, claiming that he can “compute the latent ‘physical attractiveness factor’” from his data. Psychology Today eventually removed the post and issued an apology, but not before it drew plenty of fire from around the Web. A copy of the article was reposted on Quora.
The brief apology statement posted about two weeks later, just this past Friday, said Psychology Today “does not tolerate racism or prejudice of any sort” and that it had not approved the post. Editor-in-Chief Kaja Perina wrote, “We deeply apologize for the pain and offense that this post caused. Psychology Today’s mission is to inform the public, not to provide a platform for inflammatory and offensive material. … We have taken measures to ensure that such an incident does not occur again.”
However, the apology stopped short of detailing what measures would be taken to prevent future racist articles from being published. It also failed to point out the post’s scientific flaws, let alone denounce them. Merely recognizing the post as offensive is not enough; Psychology Today also needs to call out Kanazawa’s faulty science.
As many have pointed out, Kanazawa’s statistics are deeply flawed. A Scientific American journalist and other writers for Psychology Today recently conducted independent statistical analyses of the Add Health data and debunked Kanazawa’s claims. Just the beginning of how his claims didn’t make sense: Kanazawa used data from an Add Health study about how adolescent behaviors affect their health—not a study about race and beauty. It’s common knowledge that the population of any study needs to be an unbiased sample, and the people doing the beauty judging were Add Health researchers. Since when are the researchers themselves an unbiased sample?
Having presented these flawed statistics in his post, Kanazawa mused about the cause of this supposed attractiveness difference, passing up the “race difference in intelligence” as a potential cause (he claimed beautiful people are more intelligent)—as if such a racial difference exists. He just as confidently concluded that the only possible explanation he could think of must be that African American women have higher levels of testosterone—with no data to back up that outrageous claim.
Now, the London School of Economics is conducting an internal investigation of Kanazawa’s comments and students are calling for his firing, The Guardian reported.
Perhaps the most disturbing part is that Kanazawa has gotten away with other absurd claims until now (past posts include titles like “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?”), under the façade of fighting political correctness in the name of science. Which makes you think: How easily fooled is our society? Are racist or sexist beliefs suddenly okay if some statistics are thrown out there to justify them? It’s all too easy to take statistics out of context to back up ridiculous claims and hide the truth. Take race and the academic achievement gap—does such a gap prove some racial minorities are inherently less intelligent? Or does it prove that our society has systematically oppressed those same minorities for generations?
If pseudoscience can be so recklessly used to justify racism, then what can we do as Christians to combat these social messages? Perhaps we need to remind others of the truths behind Scripture such as Galatians 3:26-29 and the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that all humans are inherently equal and our society can only heal after we acknowledge the damage of racial prejudice and injustice. In doing so, we must reject Eurocentric definitions of beauty and instead define ourselves each as Christ does: children of God worthy of love regardless of how our society might attempt to rank our value.
Ever since Chris Brown’s taped apology was released on Monday, people have been questioning whether or not he deserves the public’s forgiveness? Call me crazy, but I forgave Chris Brown for beating then-girlfriend and fellow R&B singer Rihanna nearly six months ago when the story of his violence first made headlines. While most of the media raked him over the coals for his actions, culminating in a series of domestic violence shows on Oprah, my heart softened for the boy who became the poster child for teen violence.
In this Juneteenth edition of Pop & Circumstance, we consider the U.S. Senate’s late-but-official apology for slavery and Jim Crow, Tweets from a revolution, Jazz at the White House, ‘Speidi’ and the problem with reality TV religion, and what will Mary Mary sing at the BET Awards?
Senate Apologizes for Slavery — and Spartacus Wins
This week in “Current Events You Thought Shoulda Happened 40 Years Ago,” the United States has officially given its “my bad” on slavery. On Thursday, led by Iowa lawmaker Tom Harkin, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the “enslavement and segregation of African-Americans” and recognizing the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws.” Though the apology is official, there was concern among some senators that the language in the resolution would leave the door open for lawsuits or a demand for reparations.
While African Americans are certainly delighted with the apology, presumably 92-year-old Spartacus film icon Kirk Douglas is also happy. The actor had been petitioning Congress for an apology for slavery for years. Just this past April, Douglas wrote on his MySpace page: “As I told you quite some time ago, in my last book Let’s Face It, I wrote about the importance of our country showing the world that we are capable of humility by making an apology for our behavior towards African Americans before and after the Civil War.” The veteran actor also collected signatures in support of the apology on MySpace. Isn’t it interesting that a resolution like this hadn’t happened already? Well, better late than never.
The Revolution in 140 Characters or Less
Lest we think Twitter is just another useless digital platform to share a constant stream of the minutiae of our lives, the social networking site that asks members to share what they’re doing in 140-characters or less just got more interesting. Following the controversial election in Iran, protesters who were blocked from using other forms of online communication by government officials took to the Twitterverse to share their discontent. Sympathetic Twitter users from all across the world joined in the protest, spreading word about the election and even encouraging greater mainstream news media coverage of the events. Some even helped protect Iranian protesters from being tracked by changing their Twitter location and time zone to act as “proxy or ghost Iranians.”
The viral nature of Twitter allowed those of us who may not be politically savvy or aware to instantly participate on the front lines of a massive international protest against a Middle Eastern government from the convenience of our laptops or mobile phones. I had no idea about the Iranian election, but found out about the protest from my friend Kyle Westaway who is an attorney in New York City. He sent out the following Twitter update to all of his followers: “Twitter Friends: Change your location and time zone to Tehran and +3.30 to help the protesting Iranians from being tracked. #iranelection”. Since his Twitter account links to his Facebook profile, he alone spread word of the event to hundreds of people with just one click.
The implications of this kind of mass mobilization are great, particularly for people of faith who are called to bring the needs and concerns of society’s marginalized people to the forefront of our culture.
Jazz at the White House
As much as I’m trying not to be all Obama all the time, I can’t help it. The First Family just keeps getting cooler. On June 15th, the White House hosted a Jazz Studio, featuring musicians from the Marsalis family, the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival and the Thelonius Monk Jazz Institute. In her remarks to the 150 high school students who attended the event, First Lady Michelle Obama referred to jazz as “America’s indigenous art form” and the best example of American democracy with its emphasis on “individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.” UrbanFaith’s resident Jazz Theologian, Robert Gelinas, calls jazz more than music. He says, “[Jazz] is a way of thinking and a way of viewing the world. It is about freedom within community. It is a culture, that is, a set of values and norms by which we can experience life in general and faith in particular.” We couldn’t agree more, and it’s a pleasure to see the Obama White House encouraging creativity and re-imparting value on artistic expression.
Reality TV Piety
When Stephen Baldwin baptized Spencer Pratt a couple of weeks ago on television’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, we let it slide. It didn’t seem right to comment on such a clearly misguided publicity stunt, despite the Christian relevance. Besides, the rest of the media was already making a mockery of the incident. NBC, the network that produces the show, titled video clips of the baptism as “Stephen Baldwin shoves the devil out of Spencer” or “Saved by Stephen.” The whole thing was ridiculous, but this kind of behavior is par for the course when it comes to the former MTV Hills reality show star Spencer Pratt and his wife Heidi Montag. The couple has been injecting itself into tabloid headlines for months with self-generated drama. For a while they bought a few extra minutes of reality star fame by selling the story of a feud between Montag and Hills co-star Lauren Conrad. Then it was plastic surgery and a botched music career for Heidi that culminated in a Pratt-directed beach video. Most recently the couple invited paparazzi to their rushed wedding in Mexico.
But now things have gone too far. Montag, a self-proclaimed Christian who often “tweets” about her faith, is posing for Playboy, and she’s justifying the decision by calling herself a “modern day Mother Teresa.” As my mother would say, if she thinks she’s Mother Theresa, then she’s got another think coming. And though we’re not in the business of judging anyone’s faith here at UrbanFaith, we can express our disappointment over how “Speidi” is portraying Christianity in popular culture. We wish they would keep quiet about their faith until they figure out what they really believe. In the meantime, they’re probably doing more damage to the Church’s reputation. What do you think?
The Word on BET
A couple of weeks ago we shared with you the gospel nominees for the upcoming 2009 BET Awards. Now we have more information on the performers. Set your DVRs for 8pm ET/PT on June 28th because Mary Mary will take the stage. We hope the gospel gals sing something deep from their recent album, and perhaps bypass the secular-friendly “God In Me” single. It’s a toe-tapper, but with this kind of platform, they might want to deliver a message with a little more gospel truth. Also scheduled to perform are Beyoncé, Kanye West, Maxwell, Ne-Yo, Fabolous, Young Jeezy, and Soulja Boy.
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