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Abercrombie and Fitch Lawsuit

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LAST YEAR, a lawsuit against retail chain Abercrombie and Fitch introduced a new "-ism" into the American lexicon of prejudice: lookism. Abercrombie admitted to having a national policy of recruiting attractive people to work at their stores. However, anti-discrimination law entered the picture when Abercrombie appeared to have an overly inclusive definition of "attractive" as white.

This conceptualization should set off a bell in the heads of most Americans: Warning, racism may be afoot. Others might observe that, after all, race is defined by physical appearance. Warriors against racial prejudice have fought for years to make people understand that race is not a biological category, but a social construction of phenotypic traits like skin color. Technically, physical appearance is the only valid significance that we may attach to race. However, as society stands now, superficiality is one guise of a progressive brand of racism. While it is still an ideal to be attained, we are not currently ready to accept race as a purely aesthetically-defined category.

Lookism is hardly a new strategy for capturing a market share. Think the existence of a multi-billion modeling industry. Think Hollywood. Think Hooters. Pretty faces drive popular culture because the clichй is true: sex sells. The area of concern is the consumer side of the market and individual preferences. It isn't racists who sit on the marketing boards of these companies, but capitalists. The blame lies largely on consumers for having these preferences, not suppliers for capitalizing on it. Lookism is most pervasive on the individual level. Abercrombie did not tell America that white was beautiful--America told Abercrombie.

It's hardly a coincidence that Abercrombie also has a reputation for having overly sexual advertising campaigns. And there is nothing unnatural in looking for particularly physical qualities in a potential partner. I've never been a huge fan of fat guys. I've got a friend with an aversion to redheads. And my ex-roommate said she would never date a black guy. She said she wasn't attracted to them. We're not ready to call this an acceptable form of lookism, but it must be included as racism. Categorically rejecting an entire race as a potential sexual partner cannot be circumscribed by mere superficiality -- it blurs into prejudice.

It is absolutely true, as well as patently obvious, that black people look different from white people who look different from Asian people and so forth. Race differs from ethnicity and heritage in its dependence on purely physical attributes such as skin color, hair texture, and eye shape. Race is a purely aesthetic category, and thus its evaluation for purpose of attraction merely boils it down to its essence. The physicality of race has made it an arbitrary basis for decision-making and at the same time problematic for its nakedness. Still, relegating race to more generally "looks" is the only absolute acceptable understanding of the significance of race. Race is the surface.

However, recall that sexual fear of other races,



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