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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Column: A beauty bias

Let me start off by saying that I really, really like Beyoncé. I think that she’s incredibly talented and impossibly beautiful and that she carries herself very well. She’s one of the few pop icons out there whose success stands on more than sex appeal. She can actually sing and dance and is a master entertainer. Beyoncé is many things: a vocalist, an entrepreneur, an inspiration to millions around the globe. What she is not is a writer.

When I say writer, I don’t mean songwriter. I have no idea if Beyoncé has any part in writing the hits that inspire dance crazes, carry women through breakups and become staples at karaoke bars. My guess is that she has a lot of help, to put it nicely. I’m talking about real writing (not that songwriting isn’t real writing). More specifically, I’m talking about journalism.

As an aspiring journalist myself, it came as a complete shock to me when I perused through my usual news and gossip websites only to find out that the New York Association of Black Journalists had given the singer a first-place writing award in the category of Arts and Entertainment.

On May 15, Beyoncé will be honored at the NYABJ 24th Annual Scholarship and Awards Banquet for the cover story she wrote for Essence Magazine entitled “Eat, Play, Love,” which gives readers a glimpse into the nine-month vacation she took from work. The piece is alright. It’s more than satisfying for fans who want to know more about Beyonce’s private life, but from a writer’s point of view, it’s just alright.

Like I mentioned earlier, I have nothing against Beyoncé. She was being a smart businesswoman when she agreed to write for the magazine. She didn’t ask to be given a writing award. No, I’m more disappointed in the NYABJ for putting publicity above content, beauty and recognition above skill. This controversy definitely put their name out there, which is what I suspect they wanted in the first place.

Publicity reasons aside, NYABJ is not the first and won’t be the last to be blinded by a person’s charisma and beauty, unable or unwilling to recognize their flaws. We do this all the time, giving people who are attractive the benefit of the doubt or assuming that because they are attractive, they must have all these other positive traits, too.

Recently, in my communication class, the professor presented a slide with incomplete statements about physical and personality traits and had the class finish the sentences. For example, Amy is attractive, intelligent and (likeable, unlikeable). Or Aaron is bright, lively and (thin, heavy). Everyone in the class selected likeable for the first statement and thin for the second. Our tendency to group characteristics together is described by the Implicit Personality Theory.

Assumptions are dangerous things and this case is no exception. We are visual creatures and always looking for shortcuts when trying to characterize people that we don’t know well, but judging others’ competence and character using superficial criteria has negative implications.

In movies, for example, the main chick is always chasing after the gorgeous jock who also happens to be a total jerk. She goes through hell trying to be good enough for a nobody trapped in an Adonis body all the while overlooking the not-as-attractive but super sweet, smart and compassionate guy who’s been in love with her this whole time. She could save herself so much trouble by being more objective when it comes to assessing her romantic prospects.

Maybe there’s something reassuring about things and people that are visually pleasing to the eye that makes us want to believe all these good things about them. The problem lies not in making these initial assumptions – I have a feeling that we do this subconsciously and can’t help ourselves – but in letting our assumptions drive our actions to the point that we ignore reality.

Contact PAMELA NONGA NGUE at pamnonga@ucdavis.edu.

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