Are you a racist if you like big butts?

January 8, 2023 • 1:15 pm

How can you not like Kat Rosenfield when she’s named “Kat,” is Jewish, and has the ability to write a trenchant but also funny review of a book on how white people are not allowed to either like big butts or (if a woman) have one, for it’s a form of racist cultural appropriation. Twerking is out too.

The book under consideration is called Butts: A Backstory, and you can click on the cover to go to the Amazon link (yes, the title and graphics are clever):

 

You can read Kat’s Unherd review by clicking on the screenshot:

Kat gives the book a mixed review. The bit about the documented racialization of oversized derrieres, particularly in the 18th and 19th century, is pretty horrifying, especially the story of the South African black woman Sarah Baartman, who was exhibited as an inferior specimen of human for her rear pulchritude. But if big butts were racially denigrated then, author Heather Radke says that they’re welcome now among some white people, and gives examples like Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and so on. “Twerking,” too, has been taken up by whites. And it’s the white appropriation of the butt fetish that is, well, problematic:

Rosenfield:

To be fair, it surely is not Radke’s intention to inculcate racial anxiety in her reader: Butts feels like a passion project, deeply researched and fun to read, offering a deep dive into the history and culture of the human rear end, from the Venus Callipyge (from whose name the word “callipygian” is derived) to Buns of Steel to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s seminal rap celebrating all things gluteal. It is a topic ripe for well-rounded analysis, so to speak. But having been written in the very particular milieu of 2020s America, Butts unfortunately falls victim to the contemporary vogue for viewing all matters of culture through a racial lens. The result is a work that not only flattens the butt, figuratively, but makes the book feel ultimately less like an anthropological study and more like an entry into the crowded genre of works which serve to stoke the white liberal guilt of the NPR tote bag set.

At this point I was starting to fall in love with Rosenfield, but she kept on stoking the ardor with her insistent anti-wokeness:

The concept of cultural appropriation has always struck me as both fundamentally misguided and historically illiterate, arising from a studied incuriosity about both the inherent contagiousness of culture and the mimetic nature of human beings. But when it comes to the remixing of thing such as textiles, hairdos or fashion trends across cultures, the appropriation complaints seem at least understandable, if not persuasive: there’s a conscious element there, a choice to take what looked interesting on someone else and adorn your own body in the same way. Here, though, the appropriated item is literally a body part — the size and shape of which we rather notoriously have no control over. And yet Radke employs more or less the same argument to stigmatise the appropriation of butts as is often made about dreadlocks or bindis.

The book is insistent on this front: butts are a black thing, and liking them is a black male thing, and the appreciation of butts by non-black folks represents a moral error: cultural theft or stolen valour or some potent mix of the two. Among the scholars and experts quoted by Radke on this front is one who asserts that the contemporary appreciation of butts by the wider male population is “coming from Black male desire. Straight-up, point-blank. It’s only through Black males and their gaze that white men are starting to take notice”. To paraphrase a popular meme: “Fellas, is it racist to like butts?”

But if it’s racist to like big butts, why are so many white people either getting butt implants or taking pride in their derrieres? It seems that Radtke is conflating racism with cultural approprition. Both are “moral errors”, but really it’s only the first.

First of all, buttophilia is not a new thing; there have always been a subset of men who like an ample bottom, and there’s nothing wrong with that, for there’s a subset of men who favor any given female body part. (Rosenfield notes the theory that the bustles of earlier times were designed as a superliminal stimulus to appeal to those who favor large rears.)

But there’s also no doubt that there’s recent cultural appropriation, as in white rapper Iggy Azalea’s astounding increase in bum girth, one suspects through surgery. If a love of big butts is racist, there’s an awful lot of white people who favor them!  Again, things that are really considered racist are not culturally appropriated, no matter who appropriates them.  I suppose that Radtke’s thesis, although she mentions cultural appropriation, is that women who strive for big butts are, à la Rachel Dolezal, trying to be black, and that is somehow a form of racism. But that doesn’t explain why some white men like big butts.

It’s all a mystery, but Rosenfield still writes well about it:

By the time Butts comes around to analysing the contemporary derriere discourse, its conclusions are all but foregone: the political is not just personal, but anatomical. The book calls multiple women, including Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and Miley Cyrus, to account for their appropriation of butts, which are understood to belong metaphorically if not literally to black women. The most scathing critique is directed at the then-21-year-old Cyrus, whose twerking at the VMAs is described as “adopting and exploiting a form of dance that had long been popular in poor and working-class Black communities and simultaneously playing into the stereotype of the hypersexual Black woman”. The mainstreaming of butts as a thing to be admired, then, is the ultimate act of Columbusing: “The butt had always been there, even if white people failed to notice for decades.”

There is also the curious wrinkle in Radke’s section on the history of twerking, which credits its popularisation to a male drag queen named Big Freedia. The implicit suggestion is that this movement style is less offensive when performed by a man dressed as a woman than by a white woman with a tiny butt.

On the other hand, now that the fad is “healthy at any size,” how can there be an ideological stigma against large bottoms?

. . . Ironically, the author of this book is herself a white woman with a large backside, a fact of which she periodically reminds the reader. And yet, Butts thoroughly subsumes its subject matter into the cultural appropriation discourse in a way that implicitly impugns all the non-black women who look — at least from behind — a hell of a lot more like Nicki Minaj than Kate Moss, women who perhaps hoped that their own big butts might be counted among those Sir Mix-a-Lot cannot lie about liking. It is worth noting, too, that the women hung out to dry by this argument are the same ones who other progressive identitarian rhetoric almost invariably fails to account for: the more it indulges in the archetype of the assless willowy white woman, the more Butts excludes from its imagination the poor and working class — whose butts, along with everything else, tend to be bigger. It fails to account, too, for those from ethnic backgrounds where a bigger butt — or, as one of my Jewish great-grandmothers might have said, a nice round tuchus — is the norm.

And the last paragraph is great:

All told, Butts offers an interesting if somewhat monomaniacal look back at the cultural history of the derriere. But as for how to view our backsides moving forward — especially if you happen to be a woman in possession of a big butt yourself — the book finds itself at something of a loss. Those in search of body positivity will not find it here; Radke is firm on this front, that white women who embrace their big butts are guilty of what Toni Morrison called “playing in the dark”, dabbling thoughtlessly with a culture, an aesthetic, a physique that doesn’t really belong to them. The best these women can hope for, it seems, is to look at their bodies the way Radke does in the final pages, with a sort of resigned acceptance: her butt, she says, is “just a fact”. On the one hand, this is better than explicitly instructing women to feel ashamed of their bodies (although implicitly, one gets the sense that shame is preferable to the confident, twerking alternative). But after some 200 pages of narrative about the political, sexual, cultural, historical baggage with which the butt is laden, it feels a bit empty, a bit like a cop-out. It could even be said — not by me, but by someone — that Butts has a hole in it.* [see below]

In the end, it seems as if Radke’s message is that it’s not really racist to like big butts if you’re white, but you better not get one or engage in twerking.  That’s reserved for ethnicities whose women naturally have large rumps; in other words, whites of a callipygean bent are engaging in cultural appreciation, and that’s wrong. But I’ve never seen a form of cultural appropriation that I’d criticize, and this one is no exception. Let a thousand butts twerk!

The evolution of Iggy Azelea’s rear, from an article in (of course) The Sun:

Rosenfield’s last line reminds me of a semi-salacious joke that my father used to tell me when, as a young lad, I was tucked in (he always had a witticism at bedtime):

“Jerry, there’s a good movie on. The ad says “Mein Tuchus in two parts. Come tomorrow and see the whole!”

h/t: Luana

40 thoughts on “Are you a racist if you like big butts?

    1. I think the appropriate response to the dad joke by Coyne père would be, “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya.”

  1. Is this figurine, dating back 30,000 years the earliest instance of cultural appropriation?

    Such appreciation continues to this day, for example in Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls and AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie.

    The fact is that, in most cultures in history, the males have appreciated a curvy female form, having a sizeable rump and bosom and a narrower midriff. It’s only in modern times that an ultra-thin, catwalk figure has been seen as an ideal.

  2. The callipyge mutation (CLPG) in sheep has cool genetics (imprinting, over dominance). And the ram in which the mutation was first discovered is named “Solid Gold”. Maybe there’s a market for custom crispr therapy to grow (rather than surgically implant) a larger gluteus.

  3. “But if big butts were racially denigrated then, author Heather Radke says that they’re welcome now among some white people, and gives examples like Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and so on.”

    You must mean “Kim Kardashian’s and Jennifer Lopez’s”, as these ladies are not white, right? (I’d add Beyonce to that exalted grouping too.)

  4. Hey, as Sir-Mix-A-Lot pointed out, plenty of white boys also get a thrill from a well-formed badonkadonk — or, as the Cuban cats I used to go commercial fishing with would call them, langostinos (referring to the clawless lobsters that carry most of their meat in the tail). 🙂

      1. And they have a word for it: culona, which can apparently be either a noun (a big butt or someone who has one), or an adjective (possessing a big butt). My experience is limited to eating hormigas culonas, the famous big-assed ants of the Santander region of Colombia.

  5. I think Kat Rosenfield is one of the best essayists in the biz right now, is a great novelist, quite funny on Twitter, and also, perhaps due to her side hustle as a yoga instructor, she has a really nice bum, you can see it on her Instagram

  6. The topic comes up in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. In fact I am afraid to say it’s the only thing I remember from the whole book. She uses the wonderful word steatopygia to describe the form of the posterior. She is explains at some length why some men find it attractive. She seems to be saying they like a lot of nothingness, but it’s not easy to follow. Here she goes: “The most naive form of this requirement is the Hottentot ideal of the steatopygous Venus, as the buttocks are the part of the body with the fewest nerve endings, where the flesh appears as a given without purpose.” Sarah Baartman was a Hottentot (khoikhoi) and was indeed known as the Hottentot Venus.

  7. Sir Mix-a-Lot: I like big butts and I cannot lie.
    Nasty Nes: I like small butts and I cannot tell the truth.
    You may ask ONE question.

  8. There are quite a few watch words: when you hear them you can safely dismiss the person saying them. Forever. Arrogant I know to just “dismiss” morons, but life is short, as is my tolerance at 51. And I am in the happy position in life to not have to suffer fools for any reason.
    A few of the words include: “Cultural appropriation”, “Decolonize”, “Jesus”, “White savior” etc. As of late even “racism” has me moving towards the door or clicker of intolerance. Hear them, click off or turn away, hang up. What’s coming probably will be stupid and/or uninteresting.
    D.A.
    NYC (FL)

    1. I’ve been ignoring “racism” for several years now, or as my philosopher friend Viminitz says, I just don’t give it uptake. As he says, “I’m responsible for what I said, not for what you think you heard.” It’s strangely liberating, not to have to get into arguments about how bad a racist Sir John A Macdonald was. Of course I don’t have to worry any more about people from HR coming at me with their batons. Now, If my wife complains that I missed the bag in the green composter on the kitchen counter and dribbled salmon skin down between the biodegradable bag and the cannister again — “So that’s where that stink was coming from!” — then I give that uptake.

      Priorities.

      1. HAHA. Indeed. It took me many years to get to the Not Giving a F. level – and being able to follow through (that took the time). Gravitas, age and “F.U. money” help.

        I’ll add micro-aggressions, intergenerational trauma via epigenetics, implicit bias and other made-up sociology rubbish to that list.

        Real racism still exists of course and always will – in the last decade though it has become more like a search for witches run by psychopaths and narcissists. Who naturally move to the front of moral and political movements (there’s some data on this now, I’ll try and fish it out and post it here).
        I’m convinced events since George Floyd and to some extent prior to that have CREATED new racists. Just my own pet theory – not being a woke sociologist I don’t just make shit up and pretend it is true.
        keep well,
        D.A.
        NYC

    2. Ohhh yes. ‘Problematic’ is another popular one – translates to “I don’t like it, but I can’t spell out why, and if I could, it would make me look stupid”.
      To a lesser extent: “patriarchy” and “privilege”. There are meaningful discussions to be had about these concepts, but the people who throw the terms around are not usually the ones to have them.

  9. Someone posted about this below the line of today’s Hili. It seems that Jordan Peterson is being threatened with the loss of his license to practise psychology by the College of Psychologists of Ontario unless he takes part in a board-mandated “Coaching Program” with a board-issued therapist. He is also required to issue a statement saying, “I may have lacked professionalism in public statements and during a January 25, 2022 podcast appearance”.

    One of Peterson’s alleged misdeeds is to have described a plus-sized model on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “not beautiful”. I guess he doesn’t like big butts, so he’s innocent of that particular manifestation of racism at least…

    https://archive.ph/45ImP

    1. Yeah, but of course he’s still a racist. He found a Woman Of Color (R) “not beautiful” – and thanks to body positivity, all women are now beautiful (except the white ones, of course), so his opinion was clearly incorrect, and he must be excommunicated.

  10. One can go to absurd lengths to accuse of cultural appropriation. The world we live in would be less rich without the dispersal of food, fashion, art, ideas, etc. and the tendency to point fingers is little more than a weaponized, rabbit hole that certain people venture into. The fact that the race of the offender is at the top of this rubric is racist, in itself.

  11. Big booties are not cultural appropriation. I do think the Kardasians in particular are a negative influence on the minds of young women today in two ways though. One, with respect to how women can become financially successful (their bodies) and two, by what I regard as unhealthy and expensive/extensive surgical means (lipo, collagen injections, butt implants, breast implants, plastic surgery, etc.) which is redefining beauty standards for the purpose of point one – to maximize the Kardashians’ net worth. Women can do as they please of course but these social media empires that are modeling how to monetize the hypersexualization of young women will have numerous negative consequences in my view.

    Women are at an interesting crossroads today. In this attention economy where women are making lots of money by selling their sexuality (OnlyFans, influencer channels, etc.) and often resorting to surgical means to do it. Will this prove empowering to women or not? I’m no prude and it’s a free country (nor am I shaming women for their choices) but I suspect that this road ultimately leads to less empowerment of women. It’s the body positivity and fat acceptance movement vs. the costly and invasive mighty-morphing Kardashian millionaire movement and the two paths are not congruent.

  12. And the slide backwards in to the New Racism keeps on truckin’

    My son, 21 and in university, is constantly bombarded by the New Think and it’s just a minefield.

    I think Jordan Peterson has become mostly a whacko. But if he’s done anything right, it’s to basically keep telling these people to f*ck off loudly and publicly.

  13. Big butts and discourse on such…I can’t get a handle on it. It’s slippery…hard to get a grip. Full moon blindness and such. Raises the tides. What’s another name for pirate treasure? Human butts rule! No one can survive without their Boooty.

    I know it’s weird. I post regardless. My dog ate 3 oz. of rat poison today and I’m celebrating the good prognosis. He also has a nice ass, though svelte.

  14. I’m really confused by what Jerry writes about racism vs cultural appropriation.
    One of Jerry’s quotes of Rosenfield is this:
    “The book is insistent on this front: butts are a black thing, and liking them is a black male thing, and the appreciation of butts by non-black folks represents a moral error: cultural theft or stolen valour or some potent mix of the two.”

    How can cultural theft (that is, cultural appropriation, viewed negatively) be racism? What’s the definition of racism here? It used to be defined as belief in the superiority of one race over another. Then woke people changed the definition to prejudice + power. Cultural theft (here: really just imitation) does not necessarily require power (since you don’t steal physical property) nor has it anything to do with prejudice. Cultural appropriation is imitation, which is normally considered as the most sincere form of flattery. So how can it involve prejudice?
    I ignored the “stolen valour” part in Rosenfield’s quote because I don’t understand what she means. The dictionary defines valour as “great courage in the face of danger.” Is she saying that black men showed valour when they appreciated big black female butts, before enthusiasm about big female butts became fashionable in the wider culture (assuming that the statement about who appreciated big butts more when is empirically correct)? I don’t see, empirically where valour comes in here. Courage requires that you put something valuable at risk. What were black men risking by liking big black female butts?

    Like Rosenfield, I am also deeply skeptical as to the empirical veracity of the claims that butts are a black thing, and liking them is a black male thing. There could be a lot of confirmation bias here. What does it even mean to say that butts are a black thing? After all, we all, irrespective of the our skin’s color, have a butt. If it means that big butts are more prevalent among black women, well, I’d like to see systematically collected data on this. The story of Sarah Baartman is just one anecdote, proving nothing.

    The problem with non-fiction books aimed at the non-academic market is that the publisher will just submit the book to its legal department to see whether publishing it as is would run the risk of being sued. What the publisher usually won’t do is hiring a fact checker. Most non-academic publishers take the view that fact checking is the author’s responsibility, and should be paid for by the author. So if the author does not hire a competent fact checker, the book could be full of errors. Rosenfield calls Radke’s book “deeply researched.” But she also writes this:
    “a wealth of cultural artefacts — from the aforementioned Venus sculpture to the works of Peter Paul Rubens to certain showtunes of the Seventies — belie [Radke’s] notion that white guys were oblivious to the existence of butts until black men made it cool to notice them.”
    How can the book be deeply researched while also making a claim that is belied by “a wealth of cultural artifacts”?
    Add this together with viewing cultural appropriation/imitation as theft, and you can color me deeply skeptical about the truth value of Radke’s book. Charging white people with cultural theft is fashionable nowadays, but it is nevertheless deeply ignorant. For example, almost all the innovations of modern medicine originated with white people (think Pasteur, Koch, the guys who discovered antibiotics, etc.). Should we therefore withhold those innovations from black people? This would be unethical and idiotic. But woke people never think things through. The only thing they have in spades is moral self-righteousness. Radke may or may not be woke, but she seems to have an unhealthy degree of intellectual conformism.

    Viewing cultural appropriation as a sin is on par with the lunacy of defunding the police. Even Paul Krugman is now allowed to write in the New Woke Times (that is, the New York Times) that “defund the police” was a stupid (and politically destructive) slogan; we probably need to devote more, not less, resources to law enforcement.”
    Paul Krugman: Crime and Political Punishment. June 9, 2022
    https://archive.vn/4K6b5

    1. “How can the book be deeply researched while also making a claim that is belied by “a wealth of cultural artifacts”?”
      By doing a lot of research, but only in directions that support your premise. If you stack a lot of weights on one side of a scale, you did stack a lot of weights, but still end up with an unbalanced scale. That’s what you find in lots of ideologically-influenced media – not outright lies, just spin, omissions and verbal tricks of the light.
      As a nice example, the Krugman article you cited spends a lot of effort not naming the obvious explanations for the post-George Floyd explosion of violent crime (except to dismiss them in a snide half-sentence).

  15. The premise of the book is wrong. People have liked butts since the earliest cultures we’ve found artifacts from.

    Cultural appropriation is the sincerest form of flattery. Without it our societies would be dreadfully boring. Most people love to share aspects of their culture and see others embrace them. This is a good thing, possibly one of the best things that humans do. It should be celebrated, not stifled.

  16. JAC note: I normally wouldn’t post this as it’s too salacious, but these are the lyrics from Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom”

    The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’
    That’s what I said
    The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand
    Or, so I’ve read.
    My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo
    I love to sink her with my pink torpedo.
    Big bottom
    Big bottom
    Talk about bum cakes
    My gal’s got ’em.
    Big bottom
    Drive me out of my mind.
    How can I leave this behind?
    I saw her on Monday, twas my lucky bun day
    You know what I mean.
    I love her each weekday, each velvety cheek day
    You know what I mean.
    My love gun’s loaded and she’s in my sights
    Big game’s waiting there inside her tights.
    Big bottom
    Big bottom
    Talk about mud flaps
    My gal’s got ’em.
    Big bottom
    Drive me out of my mind.
    How can I leave this behind?

  17. I don’t know. A vast, flabby, jiggling ass, whether on male or female, looks to me like a sign of poor health, bad eating habits and a lack of exercise.

    I mean, I can appreciate the prominent, but firm, glutes of an Olympic speed skater—the Netherlands’ Jutta Leerdam comes to mind—but the cartoon-wolf slavering over what amounts to—sorry—a fat ass? I don’t get it, never have, never will.

  18. PCC: I think you meant to type Radke in place of Rosenfield in these two paragraphs.

    But if it’s racist to like big butts, why are so many white people either getting butt implants or taking pride in their derrieres? It seems that Rosenfield is conflating racism with cultural approprition. Both are “moral errors”, but really it’s only the first.

    I suppose that Rosenfield’s thesis, although she mentions cultural appropriation, is that women who strive for big butts are, à la Rachel Dolezal, trying to be black, and that is somehow a form of racism.

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