Colourism, plastic surgery, and trying to look Caucasian

by Tommy Pass

In class we talked about the ongoing trend of lightening ones skin to appear more attractive as well as where this trend in doing so may have come from. Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses the origins of what seems to be global obsession with having whiter skin. Glenn argues that the obsession, especially from women’s point of view, stems from the fact that women are judged very strongly based upon their appearance while men are judged on other capital, such as education, income, etc.

Let’s just say hypothetically that these cultures are right and that whiteness equals beauty and that we accept this as fact, when can we see a limit to this obsession where it is taken to the extreme and skin whitening products are not the only thing women are after to look more beautiful. What about the plastic surgery trend going on in countries such as South Korea, should there be a limit to the extent that this beauty trend is taken?

A libertarian may argue that people should do as they want. Let’s assume this is correct, when does this also go too far? What about when this is forced onto children who don’t have a say in the matter at all, and who are just being told by their parents what to do. Should this be allowed? The argument to this being that this will benefit them for the future in terms of job opportunities, etc. Does this not take the obsession with looking more beautiful to the extreme when children are forced against their will by their parents to have their face permanently altered to look more “beautiful”?

To me personally it seems very much as if people are not trying to just make their skin whiter, but trying to become more Caucasian looking. I believe that historically, people saw it as a more attractive feature to be pale as this meant that you were wealthy enough to stay inside and now work in the fields, though in more recent years I believe that wanting to look Caucasian is very much a goal which women are trying to achieve.

Glenn gives the example of how the African American community had the paper bag test in social events to see who was acceptable or not, the reason for this being that those slaves who were mixed race were given the higher status jobs amongst the slaves, such as staying indoors as opposed to picking cotton and other field work. This created the illusion of prestige to those who had Caucasian ancestry and hence the mentality stayed within the community long after slavery was abolished.

African Americans getting their hair straightened, skin bleached and other alterations are in a sense aiming towards Caucasian features. This same phenomenon can be seen in East Asia. People of mixed Caucasian ancestry, in other words those with one Asian parent and one white parent, have a much easier time becoming models and are often made into TV personalities solely due to their looks. One could ask the question, why does the media use mixed-race people and not people who are 100% Caucasian if that’s what they consider beautiful? The answer could be that having a white person modelling can feel too farfetched for an Asian audience and potential customers.

Someone of pure Asian origin knows that they cannot look exactly like a white person, and will thus not put much effort into trying. Not trying means that they do not buy skin whitening creams and other cosmetics, thus cosmetic companies are unable to make a profit.  If people of mixed race who possess both Asian and Caucasian features are used within the modelling industry, then this creates something potential customers can relate to and will thus make them try—trying meaning spending money.

Hence it is obvious that the cosmetics industry wants this kind of obsessive mentality to circulate within society, doing so keeps this issue in continuation and thus giving their business profit, even while the result of all this leads to some parents wanting plastic surgery for their children. Without this kind of pressure from cosmetic companies and the media, I doubt that plastic surgery and skin whitening would be as prevalent as it is today.

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White Normality and the Mass Media

by Marcel Koníček

Before I took my international sociology class, I had never heard about skin lightening and the issues connected to it. I did not even imagine that something like that could even exist. Well, my ignorance is not as surprising considering I am a man coming from ethnically uniform Central European country not really interested in recent trends in cosmetics in other parts of the world. However, after reading about the issue I have quickly realized how widely spread and dangerous this trend is.

For those of you who have not heard about skin lightening, it is a practice done in many parts of the world, where people (mostly women) use cosmetics, containing usually either heavy metals or hormones, that change the skin tone towards the fair end of the skin tone spectrum. Prolonged use can lead to many illnesses and can permanently damage the skin. However, many are willing to pay the price.

Of course, people all over the world are doing many different beauty practices that are not good for their health, so this might be somewhat unsurprising. What is so interesting about it is that it is a phenomenon that connects many dissimilar cultures such as Philippines, African countries, African Americans, and even Japan and Korea. Why would people in all these places want to appear whiter, even though import of the whitening substances is banned in their countries?

Evelyn Nakano Glenn is saying that this is comes from mixing of preexisting preferences for fair skin, relicts of colonial supremacy and modern consumer capitalism. Being whiter gives them better chances at getting a job or being a better match for marriage. I agree with this statement and it is quite eminent, that we actually live in an age of “white normality” where any other skin colour than Caucasian white is considered something undesirable, something that you should and can change about yourself. It is true that for example Europe is full of tanning beds but tanning does not influence your racial identity, which does not have to be true for somebody like African Americans.

The huge rise in the industry of skin whitening and the idea of white normality in the current world is in my opinion tightly connected to two things: globalization of pop culture and rising buying power of the middle class in third world countries. The rise of relatively affluent middle class in countries such as India has created hundreds of millions of consumers of skin lightening products, who previously did not have enough disposable income to buy them. The globalized pop culture is what keeps the trend accelerating. All summer blockbusters that Hollywood sells to us are full of unrealistically attractive white women and the smaller entertainment industries all over the world have already adopted the American ideals of beauty – this is clearly visible in the Korean pop scene, where all the young idols have the same surgically altered face – face that is maybe less Asian and more Caucasian.

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour...

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour in 2011.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We do not have to go as far for a good example – let’s have look at an African American pop star, Nicki Minaj, and the cover of her new single. Her hair looks very Caucasian and her skin tone actually looks almost whiter than my own skin. I am sure that this is not an accident but a careful choice of background, lighting, cosmetics and photo editing. Everything with the goal to make her look as white as she can without losing too much of her racial background. If even the artist of what some people call “black music” has to look white on the cover of her single to give the right impression, how white must be an Indian woman to be considered a good match for a preferably wealthy husband?

This question is very worrisome and I do not know how to solve this problem or even if it can or should be solved in some reasonable way. However, it shows the ways how media, economic development of third world countries and perception of beauty can influence the behavior of people worldwide.

The Links between Skin Tone and Self-Esteem

Gordon Parks' American Gothic. Portrait of gov...

Gordon Parks’ American Gothic. Portrait of government cleaning woman Ella Watson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mikaella Hahn

As I was reading Verna Keith’s “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement, and Self-Esteem among African American Women,” I started to wonder if myself as a Korean American being able to distinguish amongst Asians is similar to what was mentioned regarding African Americans being more sensitive to different shades of among African Americans—a distinction that is not significant to the dominant majority.

Well frankly, a Korean person would be insulted if they were asked whether they were Chinese. To the dominant majority in America (which is white), these distinctions probably do not matter, because the main distinction to the majority is whether the person is White or Asian. In general the dominant group doesn’t realize the importance of intra-differentiation is to the minority groups. They don’t have to be able to differentiate, so they don’t learn to, and this contributes to the continued frustration of minority groups in America.

My initial thought after reading the first paragraph was that, self-esteem of African Americans would be low when living in white dominant society due to the discrimination against them, however as opposed to my first thought, the reading revealed that African Americans rather tend to have lower self-esteem when they are living in black dominant society than living in white predominant society. The evidence from this paper provides that the light skin African Americans get better education with better job prospects with higher income.

According to the way I was educated about racism, the inherited, unacknowledged racism in a white dominant society is what I thought would lead to lower self-esteem for African Americans. To live in a society where the color black is associated with something negative, and to be portrayed as harmful to the society by media, it seems to me that people colloquially called “black” would evaluate themselves more poorly. Watching a number of videos about both white and black children favoring white dolls only reinforced my belief.

However the author says this is not the case because after the 1960s’ and 1970s’ racial activism inspired young African Americans to appreciate their natural beauty, which led them to have higher self-esteem.

On the other hand, after the hardships that African Americans have faced, it is hard for me to believe that this movement would do such widespread affect in such a short term. Compounding my disbelief is the number of empirically unproven theories presented by the author. Thus, while this chapter provided stimulating claims, it should be read with other evidence-based papers.

Expansion of plastic surgery, a new era of beauty culture

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surge...

English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Kiho Kozaki

Plastic surgery is a widespread phenomenon today, and is more popular and accepted than ever. Aman Garg once said that plastic surgery is a medical specialty concerned with the correction or restoration of form and function. Now some studies and surgeons insist that plastic surgery is the “correction” of facial features. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) conducted a survey which is the 17-year national data for procedures performed from 1997-2013, and during that period, there was a 279% increase in total number of plastic surgery both surgical and nonsurgical procedures. Though the statistic covers only procedures done in the United States, I assume that same result would be seen in elsewhere in the world.

The survey also shows that the plastic surgery’s popularity among racial and ethnic minorities, who had approximately 22% of all cosmetic procedures: African-Americans 7%, Asians 5%, Hispanics 8%, and other non-Caucasians 1%. The percentages vary depending on the studies, however, as a common observation, racial and ethnic minorities seem to seek out plastic surgery more than Caucasians.

Nadra Kareem Nittle, a race relations expert, said that is because minority groups still feel pressure to live up to Eurocentric beauty norms. They alter traits such as prominent noses or hooded eyelids. Moreover, weaves, wigs and skin whitening creams continue to enjoy mass appeal in communities of color. Then, this phenomenon of plastic procedures raises a question: do they undergo these procedures in order to look like Caucasians? Or just to gain self-esteem and to look good?

Since the standard of beauty seem to be a Westernized ideal, some people are dissatisfied with their ethnic features and believe they are ugly. Angie Rankman wrote that the appearance of mostly unattainable model normalizes certain body images, and then people perceived problems with their own features. The result is that many people are left with deep seated psychological insecurities about themselves and their body image, often resulting in unreasonable expectations in regard to cosmetic surgery.

As Alexander Edmonds, a lecturer of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, notes, mass media uses this ‘market value of appearance’. I argue that is not necessary to conclude that they want to look like Caucasians. Of course there is a big influence by mass media remaining people dissatisfied with their features and the desire for Caucasians may exist but that does always not mean they want to cross racial and ethnic lines. Some people may wish to, but I assume that majority of people still want to remain as who they are.

Dr. Samuel Lam, a plastic surgeon cited in Bagala’s article, called it ‘ethnic softening’. It means the softening of facial features that patients deemed overly ethnic but still preserving their ethnicities. Most of the patients are becoming more willing to work with their ethnic features rather than work against them.

Edmonds says there is a slippage between the national cultural notion of a ‘preference’ and a racial-biological notion of a ‘type.’ So, according to Edmonds, operations like breast surgeries can be linked to national but not racial identities.

Plastic procedures are much complicated that we cannot simply conclude why it gets more popular than ever among racial/ethnic minorities. Now, we are in the era of expansion of beauty culture. Though patients who underwent plastic procedures may insist that was their personal choice, and that they wanted to look better to boost their self-esteem, it is not simple as they insist. We should note that their assumptions and beliefs may be constructed from deep-rooted national cultural norms, racial-biological norms and certain expectations of appearance. Right now we are in the middle of seeking a new way of accepting and dealing with the widespread beauty norms.

References

American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. (2013). 2013 ASAPS Statistics: Complete charts [Including National Totals, Percent of Change, Gender Distribution, Age Distribution, National Average Fees, Economic, Regional and Ethnic Information] http://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/Stats2013_4.pdf

Bagala, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-m ore-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.

Garg, A. (n. d.). Plastic Surgery. Cite lighter. http://www.citelighter.com/science/medicine/knowledgecards/plastic-surgery.

Nittle, K, N. (n. d.). Race, Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Procedures. About News.  http://racerelations.about.com/od/diversitymatters/tp/Race-Plastic-Surgery-An d-Cosmetic-Procedures.htm

Rankman, A. (2005). Obsessed With Beauty: The Rush To Cosmetic Surgery. Aphrodite Women’s health. http://www.aphroditewomenshealth.com/news/cosmetic_surgery.shtml

“Now I know what it’s like to be black!” Invisible Minorities and Privilege in Japan

by Robert Moorehead

Recently, the Japan Times ran a column encouraging readers in Japan to take advantage of their new minority status to re-examine their racial attitudes. In “What Being a Minority Allows Us to See,” columnist Amy Chavez tries to contextualize complaints about ethnic and racial inequality in Japan as reflecting the eye-opening experiences of those who, for the first time, find themselves as racial subordinates.

So far, so good. Chavez makes an important point that living abroad can place us in unfamiliar situations, and that we should apply the lessons of those situations to our lives back home. Those of us who were in the majority in our home countries, and are in the definite minority in Japan, could think about how our experiences parallel those of other minorities, and maybe we can learn some empathy.

However, digging deeper we see how this approach perpetuates problems facing racial minorities. Firstly, Chavez assumes that her readers are members of racial majorities in their home countries. As she writes,

“The Japanese are no more racist than Americans or people of many other countries. The only difference is that when you come to Japan, for the first time in your life, you are a minority and get to see what it’s like to be one.”

In one sentence, Chavez renders invisible the people in Japan who were minorities in their home countries. I doubt the Nikkeijin (overseas people of Japanese ancestry), including Japanese Americans, Brazilians, Peruvians, and Filipinos, are experiencing being in the minority for the first time. Rather, they migrate to what they’ve been told is their ancestral homeland, only to find themselves racialized as gaijin. Adding insult to injury, now they’re left out of the discussion altogether.

“After being subjects of discrimination here, we scream like spoiled children … While we have suddenly gained … an ability to see though the eyes of minorities …, we are blinded by our own self-worth and don’t suddenly empathize with other minorities struggling to achieve equality. No light bulb goes on in the head making us think: Aha! … So this is what … African-Americans in the U.S. struggle with every day!”

Does an African American need to travel to Japan to learn what African Americans in the U.S. face?

And have we learned to see through anyone else’s eyes? Is getting rude treatment from a taxi driver (as I did recently) the same as what African Americans face? Am I being stopped and frisked repeatedly? Do I risk being shot for wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and iced tea? Am I attending poor schools? Do I stand a greater chance of being in the correctional system than in a university? Am I more likely to live in a highly segregated neighborhood? Am I more likely to get a subprime mortgage, when I’m able to get a mortgage at all? Do I have a higher risk of heart disease or diabetes? Do I have a shorter life expectancy?

The problems Chavez refers to, like employment discrimination and racial stereotyping, are real, but they do not compare to the African American experience. Not all forms of discrimination are equal.

“Your small brush with discrimination in Japan is something that has been a lifelong battle for others who were born into a life of being a minority in our own countries. And many of them suffer far worse than we do in Japan.”

“Try being an African-American in the U.S. Or an aboriginal in Australia.”

Some readers do not need to try being an African American or an aboriginal. They are African Americans or aboriginals.

Chavez’s approach is similar to John Howard Griffin’s classic book Black Like Me, in which Griffin, a white man living in the Jim Crow South, darkens his skin to learn what it’s like to be black. Griffin recounts his experiences and shares the terrorism of Jim Crow with a white audience. But this is only half of the equation. This idea that blackness is something to be understood leaves whiteness unexamined. We study discrimination but we avoid examining privilege.

“This is the role of compassion. To accept that these problems are your own and be willing to not just admit they’re wrong, but to do something about them. Speak on the behalf of other minorities, help raise their profile. Especially you — you who have had a taste of what it’s like to be in their shoes!”

Minorities can speak for themselves, thank you. They do not need a white guy who had a racial epiphany in Japan and now suddenly understands black experiences to speak for them.

Chavez also avoids the word “privilege,” even though this is what she is trying to describe. Instead, she chastises readers for allegedly lacking compassion, and tells them to talk to minorities about their experiences. Instead of trying to understand minorities and speaking for them, how about understanding the white experience and try to dismantle the systems of privilege that give unearned advantages?

“The best way to fight discrimination is by using your experience for personal growth, and to spread the idea of compassion while working to develop a mind that is non-judgmental.”

No, the best way for those in the majority to fight discrimination is to gain a broader understanding of their role in systems of privilege, and to challenge that privilege. Non-judgmental minds that operate in systems of institutional inequality are not enough. A non-judgmental mind does not challenge the fact that the median wealth for whites in the U.S. is 20 times that of blacks, or that more black men are currently in the U.S. correctional system than were enslaved in 1850.

Don’t get me wrong, non-judgmental minds are wonderful. But we live in a world in which racial inequality is built into the very structure of our societies. Challenging this requires much more than looking in the mirror and freeing our minds. To paraphrase Canadian PM Stephen Harper, now is the time to commit sociology. If it helps, we can crank Michael Jackson and En Vogue while we do it.

I strongly recommend the work of Tim Wise, including the new documentary film, White Like Me. The film is available for online streaming until August 31. Tim’s books are also widely available in paper and electronic forms.

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Transnational Migration and Limitations

by Miho Tanaka

The activities of transnational migration are expanding every day and the immigrants’ social interactions and their relationship with their host countries is changing.

Since many African American’s diaspora started around seventeenth century, immigration to the U.S. and transnational migration accompanied with it has continued. Irish, Jews, Armenians and Greeks have settled in the U.S. as well as African Americans. Nowadays more and more immigrants arrive in the U.S. from mainly Asia and Latin America and seek job opportunity there. Each government of their host lands are trying to making ties with them in order to benefit from their immigration activity beyond borders. Levitt considers this phenomenon as long-distance nationalism that emerged from this current mainstream of globalization, whose processes tend to be de-linked from specific national territories (Levitt, 2001, p.202). On the basis of the changes of immigration in the U.S., Levitt addresses how policymakers should challenge these changes (Levitt, 2004).

I consider that the U.S. is one of the epitomes of immigrant issue in the world. A lot of people and ethnic groups have migrated to the country but the country also has many problems. Though Mexicans, Dominicans, El Salvadorans and the other immigrants can have strong ties with their host countries but non-immigrants do not have any connection with the other countries and they are losing jobs. Low-skilled people in the country may have their jobs taken by immigrants. However immigrants have some issues as well; for example some of them gradually lose relationships with their home countries, and if they assimilate to U.S. society culturally, economically and socially they willing to live and settle to the U.S. In addition the second generation often find itself as American citizens; therefore long-distance nationalism would be meaningless for them.

And most importantly the issue of racism is still large in U.S. society, and the U.S. society still allows domination by European Americans and sustains racism toward minority ethnic groups. At Western Michigan University, I took an Africana studies class and a social work class, which dealt with cultural and racial issues in the U.S. Through both classes I mainly learned how African American is racially discriminated in the society.

I suppose my way of thinking is similar to colorism but those whose skin color is dark tend to be targeted as an object of discrimination. Even if they transmigrated for such a long time they still cannot assimilate into their societies and their social status is threatened by newcomer of immigrants. From the perspective I found out a limitation of transnationalism, since the U.S. itself also has a lot of unemployed people. The problem would not be solved unless people change their racial tensions based on the skin color or appearance.

Reference

Levitt, P. (2001). Transnational migration: Taking stock and future directions. In Global Networks. 1, 3, 195-216.

Levitt, P. (2004). Transnational migrants: When “home” means more than one country. Retrieved on June 6, 2013, from  http://www.migrationinformation.org/feature/display.cfm?id=261

A Colorstruck World? –not for all, only for a particular group of people

by Sakiko Yasumi

Who has been struck in this world? Moreover, why have they been struck? When we attempt to answer these questions, we might think of people struggling in certain situations; people undergoing natural disaster or discrimination, suffering from hunger, extreme poverty, or conflicts, etc. These predictions are undecided and imprecise yet. However, definitely, you can come up with the significant answer without any difficulties if you get a hint: “colorstruck”. It might be reluctantly factual that everyone can respond to the questions with a concrete explanation why they think so. As I mentioned above, in this colorstruck world implied in the book ‘Shades of Difference’, people, especially who live in a diverse country like the United States, have been having trouble with the ‘colorstruck society’.

For the first question; “who has been struck in a ‘colorstruck’ world?” In the United States, people who have dark skin get many difficulties to live in the society compared to people who have lighter skin, even within the African American communities in the United States. Because of the long and bottomless history of discrimination, African Americans have experienced educational, occupational and income gaps between them and lighter skinned supremacy. What I thought through reading the chapter was that its perspective becomes globally understood and darker skinned people unconsciously tend to attempt to look like a white-skinned person by using skin whitener, straightening their hair, thinning their lips, etc. I am aware of that we, Japanese people also have a tendency to apply sunscreen to our skin, and sometimes to have a plastic surgery to get a white-person’s looks. In addition, two of us have something in common; girls/ ladies heavily care about our appearance compared to men.

The second question is “why have they been struck?” It should have been unnecessary for African American women in the United States to evaluate their self-worth by their complexion. Nevertheless, because they are ‘women’, pursuing beauty is one of the best means to heighten their status and self-esteem. Moreover, it was unexpected that African American women have higher self-worth and self-esteem when compared with whites because sadly, they have been competing within their own group to compare and evaluate themselves rather than in the larger society which causes African American women’s too-high self-esteem and self-evaluation.

In conclusion, I did not mean that having a high self-esteem is inappropriate. Despite, this is regrettable that African American women tend to be evaluated by outside of them and comparisons and evaluations are happened with their coethnics for status achievement. An attempt to have a white-skinned person’s appearance resulted from an ordinary social phenomenon. Their self-esteem must be based on and measured by how they love themselves including their original appearance and personality, definitely not by outsiders given the association between skin tone and perceived attractiveness. For this accomplishment, this ‘colorstruck’ society in where American people live ought to be transformed to the one with the environment which all people are livable no matter what their skin colors are.