Author: Matthew Blackwell

The Origins of Colourism

When Solange and Beyoncé Knowles’s father Mathew Knowles was asked in 2018 why he preferred to date women of a lighter skin tone, he replied, “I had been conditioned from childhood.” At least as far back as Gunnar Myrdal’s 1949 book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, social scientists have recognized discriminatory behaviour among African American males in favour of fairer skinned females, a bias that the 2011 documentary Dark Girls reveals is still unfortunately prevalent today. “I don’t really like dark skinned women, like, they’d look funny beside me,” disclosed one male interviewed for Dark Girls. “I’d like a pretty, light skin girl.” As revealed in the documentary, this view takes an emotional toll on dark women, who are discriminated against in all sorts of ways. Darker skinned women in magazines and film often are airbrushed or photoshopped into a Beyoncé glow, and lighter skinned African American actresses and dancers seem to be cast disproportionately in film roles and music videos compared to some of their darker skinned colleagues. Even children …

Devastation and Denial: Cambodia and the Academic Left

Looking out across the yellow-washed angular buildings that clutter the inner city of Phnom Penh in 2016, hindsight fills me with anxiety. Imagining myself here in 1975, I recall the jubilant and cheering crowds in the spring of that year who weren’t privy to that hindsight as they welcomed Khmer Rouge communists into Cambodia’s capital city after months of siege. On the morning of 17 April, word had arrived that the Khmer Rouge had captured the government’s last beleaguered military stronghold on the outskirts of the city. Prime Minister Long Boret could hardly believe the news. He demanded to be driven to the riverside to see it with his own eyes. By the time he arrived, order had already collapsed in the streets and men wearing the black shirts of the Khmer Rouge surrounded his small entourage and demanded his guards put down their guns. Managing to slip away in the chaos, Boret reported back to his cabinet at the Defence Ministry that the enemy was already in the streets. The rush then began to …

How the Science Wars Ruined the Mother of Anthropology

Part I: Margaret Mead’s Original Sin When I was about 23, I embarked on a lone trip around the Vanuatu Islands. I eventually wound up on the isolated Maskelyne Island, quite a few days away from civilization in the Western sense of the word. A man had just died and many suspected that witchcraft was involved in cursing his food. For a week I attended the extensive funeral ceremonies, dove on the reef in my spare time, and drank kava with the locals at night. It all sounds very romantic, but the truth is that there was something quite off-putting about being surrounded by hundreds of people from a different culture; an unusual state of loneliness begins to creep in, accompanied by a deep desire to connect with something – anything – from Western culture. Climbing aboard the cargo vessel Big Sista to hitch a ride to Espiritu Santo, I remember hearing a Taylor Swift song on the radio. I’ve never appreciated Taylor Swift so much. However, my journey did leave me with a newfound and abiding …

Why Do Men Rape?

One of the keys to understanding the underlying visions of conservatives and progressives is to observe how they interpret crime. Progressives tend to believe that people are not born to be criminals; one way or another, crime is perceived to be a reflection and consequence of the structure of society and the unfortunate place in that society that the criminal occupies. Property crime is typically explained as a result of the unemployment and inequality produced by capitalism, and of the rigid property rights that prevent people from sharing resources more equally, as they might have done in the pre-societies described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to see crime as the result of a decaying of social morality, and are quick to point out that there was less crime during the darkest days of material deprivation during the Great Depression than there is today. According to the conservative worldview, self-interested people can be relied upon to trample others to get their own way, …

The Psychology of Progressive Hostility

Recently, I arrived at a moment of introspection about a curious aspect of my own behavior. When I disagree with a conservative friend or colleague on some political issue, I have no fear of speaking my mind. I talk, they listen, they respond, I talk some more, and at the end of it we get along just as we always have. But I’ve discovered that when a progressive friend says something with which I disagree or that I know to be incorrect, I’m hesitant to point it out. This hesitancy is a consequence of the different treatment one tends to receive from those on the Right and Left when expressing a difference of opinion. I am not, as it turns out, the only one who has noticed this. I'm a centrist: I hold some conservative views and some liberal views. But I'm more afraid of talking to my liberal friends about my conservative views than I am talking to my conservative friends about my liberal views. — Melissa Chen (@MsMelChen) January 16, 2018 “That’s a stupid …