Herman Cain is “Winsome” and “Cute”

Mike Huckabee says Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain,  is “winsome” and George Will considers Cain’s run for office “cute and fun” but nothing to be taken at all seriously. Maybe so — maybe not, who really knows? To be sure, Cain is definitely a long-shot.

I would be interested to see if Herman Cain was included among the cohorts of Fortune 500 black CEOs whose physiognomy was determined as having a “baby face.” If  he was not included in the study, I’d be surprised.

Though, of course, everyone may not agree that Cain is cute per se —  regardless of partisan persuasion — you’d be hard pressed to find someone who will dispute whether or not Cain has shown himself to have been competent as a food service industry executive. And I think, regardless of one’s political views, most everyone would have to agree that Cain seems to have developed an unusually high skill set in terms of attenuating dominant perceptions of black male threat and really does possess an extraordinary ability to disarm others — even potential rivals. According to the study:

disarming mechanisms are beneficial to powerful Blacks because they reduce the perception of ‘threat’—whether threat is experienced as fear or intimidation due to an out-group individual possessing high levels of power (i.e., realistic threat), or as anger, resentment, or discomfort due to the perceived illegitimacy of a low-diffuse-status individual holding a hegemonic position (i.e., symbolic or ‘worldview’ threat)… [and that] there are numerous traits and behaviors that might function as disarming mechanisms, such as modifying style of speech or dress, adopting assimilationist ideologies, having a goofy appearance (e.g., big ears), smiling, or even ‘whistling Vivaldi’ (Livingston 1234).

Well, I think Barack’s got the whole “big ears” thing covered and the reference to Brent Staples‘s “Black Men and Public Space” essay about negotiating public space in Chicago as a large black man. Staples  Staples admits at the very end of his essay how “warbling bright, sunny selections from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is [his] equivalent of the cowbell that hikers wear when they know they are in bear country.”

Teddy bears in bear country.

Cuteness as a quirky racial construction in American politics and civic life as related to Cain’s Republican presidential candidacy is a fascinating little political story to follow. Oh yeah, and as for the political catch-phrase fail of the moment:

9-9-9!

Still Cute at 50?

Barack Obama recently celebrated his 50th birthday. Asked how he feels about aging a bit, the president said “I feel real good about 5-0. I’ve got a little greyer since I took this job, but otherwise, I feel pretty good.”

This statement was made in the midst of what pretty much amounted to an epic negotiation fail having to do with the Congressional GOP’s manufactured debt crisis.

And then with his usual optimistic, though mildly self-deprecating sense of humor, Obama added the following assessment of the beating his approval rating has taken as a result of the fiscal fiasco when he joked, “Michelle… still thinks I’m cute.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My hunch is that this could be related to a study released a couple of years ago demonstrating that “baby-faceness” in African American males actually functions as a preferred facial characteristic for the achievement of elite leadership, whereas the same kind of babyish physiognomy is negatively correlated with successful leadership among white men.  This phenomenon has been coined, the “teddy bear effect” by Prof. Robert Livingston and his grad student Nicholas Pearce of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University who together argue, “apart from impeccable credentials, demonstrated competence, and tireless diligence, successful Black leaders possess disarming mechanisms—physical, psychological, or behavioral traits that attenuate perceptions of threat by the dominant group.”

This isn’t the first time Obama has used this word “cute” as a descriptive term for himself or even his First Lady.  It’s made the news a few times. There was even a bit of a Sarah Palin controversy once when Michelle used the word to describe herself. Maybe it’s me, but I simply cannot recall the Bushes or Clintons ever using the word “cute” quite as much as this particular White House.  Or perhaps whenever “cute” was uttered by previous presidencies it was — for whatever reasons — never considered newsworthy. However, this seems to fit the pattern articulated in my “cute kitten theory of race” and is a point of endless fascination for me, especially when considering the fact that Obama is already middle aged.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. He’s a good looking guy — but cute? I’m not so sure if that’s the best descriptor for a POTUS do you?

Differend Strokes

Oh where to start? I can’t say that I have any answers to the very complicated issue of transnational and trans-racial adoptions. Nor can I claim to know what it’s like to long for a child that I’m unable to conceive through ordinary means. I won’t pretend to understand. I’m sure it can be a painful situation and I imagine opening one’s life and home to a child in need of one must surely constitute an act of great love and generosity for the most part. It is also true that there are thousands of American couples who are altruistically willing to adopt children regardless of their ethnicity or nationality.

That being said, there yet remains the problem of a premium still being placed on the value of white adopted infants over that of African Americans, for instance. Adding to this is the fact that many white couples would rather go to another country to adopt babies who conform with certain racialized ideals about European heritage and/or other exoticizing stereotypes about Asians supposedly being smarter and cuter than other kinds of children. Of course, many have raised the objection about concerns surrounding minority children being forced into racial assimilation without any alternatives of cultural exposure to their own ethnic groupings, possibly resulting in a sense of identity confusion. Additionally, there’s all types of controversy surrounding an [un]ethics of first world guilt bent on saving the poor, pitiful orphans of the global South — one child at a time (as opposed to global policy change). This has been addressed by the legal scholar Patricia Williams, who makes the argument that the practice of transnational adoption is tantamount to a form of human trafficking.

It goes without saying that I have no legal expertise about the ins and outs of how such determinations can possibly be made and I’ve only heard of these stories anecdotally — though I have met one biracial adoptee back while I was an undergraduate who often complained bitterly about her “racist white parents” to anyone who would listen. I don’t know if that was really true. They were after all paying her way through college.  I mean, how could such an accusation be fully believed?

In effect, here we have the Lyotardian issue of the differend — an event that gives rise to a situation in which an injustice is clearly perceived, but cannot be fully known because the person communicating the complaint lacks the power or credibility to communicate said injury. Alas, the problem of adjudication and resolution persists as there is no way to step outside the predominating paradigm in order to ascertain the common good. Like I said, I am not trained in the law. However, there is the problem of this woman.

      Vanessa Beecroft: an exercise in colonial narcissism, white privilege, and frivolity.

If you don’t recognize her image, chances are you’re familiar with Vanessa Beecroft’s work. She was art director for Kanye West’s long video, “Runaway”  and the 2008 film, The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, documents the spectacle behind this photo. In it, Beecroft openly discusses wanting what Angelina Jolie has as she attempts to adopt the twins without informing her husband, while also knowing full well that the twins already have living relatives who are more than willing to care for them.

Anyway, I can’t help but think there must be other Beecrofts out there who regard the adoption of non-white or international children as the latest must-have accessory. Jeez Louise. Kanye really knows how to pick ’em, don’t he???

“Race” and “Beauty”

Few research studies have filtered into the mainstream discourse of race rhetorics more than the social psychology experiments of Kenneth and Mamie Clark. Their famous series of doll experiments beginning in the late 1930s have offered a particularly acute angle through which the dynamics of aesthetic ideology play out in the field of critical race studies. It was partly through their groundbreaking research (not to mention the brilliant legal minds of the day, under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall) that persuaded the US Supreme Court to abolish school segregation. Thus,  changing the law of the land that separate commercial facilities and public spaces constitute a fundamental social wrong, no longer to be tolerated.

The Clark doll experiments, as they are now referred to, demonstrate the twin phenomena of “in-group derogation” and “out-group elevation” among African American children and show that children of all races have internalized the racism and stigma caused by the legacy of colonization, slavery, and Jim Crow apartheid. Aside from the politics of color, the doll experiments become foundationally important in light of the empirical contributions made by more recent social psychology experiments demonstrating the ways people interpret facial appearance and intelligence.

You might think this issue would be put to rest, but then along comes Sutoshi Kanazawa who recently published a blog entry on a popular science website purporting to uncover a scientifically objective answer as to why black women are supposedly so damned ugly. Though, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, chances are you already know that is a false precept and notions of beauty are social constructions based on cultural biases.

According to the The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, these racial tropes and commonplaces are based on a history of discourses that have thoroughly entangled what it means to be associated with the human categories of “white” and “nonwhite” and is predicated on an Enlightenment doxa that racializes the word “black” by changing it from an adjective to a noun that is synonymous with “slave.”

As Painter demonstrates, we can thank Emanuel Kant for this unfortunate patrimony. Kant believed that there was a singular standard for human beauty and spent a good bit of his intellectual energy attacking the idea that such standards could differ by culture. Indeed, compounded by a popular and longstanding misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution rooted in nineteenth-century pseudoscience, a dialectic of race has emerged which holds the view that “blackness” equals ugliness and stupidity. Because of this combination of white Western thinking that equates racist stereotypes of blackness with that which is primitive and uncouth, a hegemonic standpoint continues to uphold whiteness as signifying purity and neutrality while blackness has come to represent stigma and provocation.

Don’t just blame the Western heritage of philosophy and science for this latest racial debacle. What many consider “beauty” has also been passed down to us through the disciplinary lens of art history.

The founder of the discipline, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, championed the idealization of ancient Greek beauty because of his inability to interpret ancient Egyptian and Greek art through anything other than his German-Italian aesthetic that was centered around the white marble statues replicating the aesthetic glories of antiquity, which he studied in Rome. As Painter explains, Winckelmann’s appreciation for whiteness qua whiteness initially developed as a result of his geographic distance from Greece.  From Rome, Winckelmann only had physical access to Roman copies of ancient Greek statues as they were translated into Italian marble. Unaware that the Greek originals were often dark in color, Winckelmann failed to understand – or simply ignored – the fact that the Greeks routinely painted their sculptures. Winckelmann, only having seen Roman versions of beautiful young men carved from gleaming white Italian marble, either knowingly or unknowingly, elevated sculptural copies of Greek statues into racial emblems of beauty – literally creating a new white aesthetic. For Winckelmann and his art history disciples, colorful sculpture was thought of as barbaric and unsophisticated, for they believed the ancient Greeks to be too refined to color their art. Painter (her name sounds funny in this context) goes on to conclude that the Western classical tradition has since adapted this preference for non-color, thus employing white plaster as the most common medium for the purposes of sculptural art education.

All of this explains just a little bit about how our cultural perceptions of beauty have come to be and why we cannot allow Sutoshi Kanazawa’s brand of pseudoscience to go unchallenged. Here is a link to the ColorOfChange.org website featuring the latest action campaign protesting the popular science journal’s editorial decision to publish Kanazawa’s racist canard. Tell the editors of Psychology Today to get a late pass; black been beautiful and the editors ought to apologize for circulating such flawed science.

designer babies

What image comes to your mind when you think of the perfect baby?

Even though the rhetoric of the body as it pertains to the area of biotechnology is not my field of specialty, I am interested in how this subject converges with my work when looked at from the standpoint of reprogenetics or the industry of so-called designer babies.

I admire the work of Dorothy Roberts who eloquently explains how reprogenetic technologies prescribe the qualities and characteristics of the “perfect baby” as being intrinsically so. Roberts reminds that just because something is more technologically advanced doesn’t make it more liberating, or even progressive for that matter. She goes on to caution against a profit driven situation “where minority people’s eggs that aren’t desirable to most white couples for reproductive purposes (where race matters a lot) will be purchased on the cheap for stem cell research (where race won’t matter that much).”

Even those privileged women, who might seem to gain advantage from these technologies, will be increasingly subject to more intensive surveillance that is generated through reprogenetics. In effect, women from all areas of life will be subject to greater social and moralistic scrutiny because of the inordinate burden of responsibility that has traditionally been placed on women to always make the “right” kinds of choices.