GQ’s latest excuse to publish photos of pretty women betrays a deeper underlying problem.
GQ has one of those hottest-women lists up, and at first you might think it’s just another one of those tedious exercises in enforcing stereotypes about conventional beauty standards, but no, this time they’ve added an innovative twist: pervasive racial Othering. Multiple women are flagged by their ethnicity, pointing out how they’re different from assumed-normal, that is to say white, women.
This is not what we think of when we think of racism. We like to imagine racism as being restricted to cross-burnings and racial epithets, something safely distant from us. This is more like the base code for racism, the underlying operating system that racist apps run on. This is someone writing on deadline, not taking time to unpack the unexamined assumptions that nobody ever taught him to unpack. It is not, in and of itself, a grievous sin. But a weird black mole on your shoulder is not, in and of itself, deadly. It’s the beginning, the necessary starting place for worse things, and if we catch it in the early stages, it’s easier to treat.
There is no “hot white chick” on GQ’s list. The closest they come is a “hot Italian chick”, which could lead to an interesting digression about the history of the concept of whiteness, but that’s a side issue. The core problem here is that white is considered normal, and nonwhiteness is considered a deviation from that norm. That is the base code, that is the underlying assumption, that is programmed into us from childhood, in nothing more than the way we construct sentences.
There is a concept, and a thriving market, of “black movies”, that is to say films with a predominantly African-American cast. There is no concept of “white movies”, because all movies are assumed (accurately) to have predominantly white casts unless otherwise specified. Because white is normal.
When Justice Sotomayor was confirmed for the Supreme Court, people asked whether her Puerto Rican heritage might affect her judgment in certain kinds of cases. Nobody asked, during John Roberts’ confirmation, if his Caucasian heritage might be a similar factor. Because white is normal.
If you really want to see people’s unvarnished id, go to where the id lives: browse some porn sites. Note how videos or picture sets with non-white performers are tagged “black” or “Asian” or “interracial” or whatever, but nothing’s ever tagged “white”. Because white is normal.
And one short step back from porn, we have GQ’s list of 60 women they consider hot. Their taste in women is their own affair, though the “top 5 as dictated to you by your girlfriend” one is hideously sexist coming and going. The issue is that the way they’re tagging and identifying these women betrays a much larger, deeper problem. I’m sure the fine folks at GQ are smart enough to think seriously about this, and start examining those unexamined assumptions, but so far they haven’t. Still, no time like the present to get started.