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Everything that’s wrong with the term ethnic beauty

Look, as my name suggests, I could not be more white. A name like Mary Katherine McCoy screams of western European privilege, and certainly makes me an unlikely candidate to be offended by the term “ethnic beauty.” But here we are. As white as I am, I still can’t help but feel annoyed by the phrase. Can we stop qualifying certain types of beauty as “ethnic?” It’s outdated, unintelligent and subtly racist.

Let’s just call “ethnic beauty” what it is

There’s no reason to qualify beauty as anything other than beauty, especially when the word “ethnic” doesn’t make sense in the context of attractiveness. The word “ethnic” has come to mean something that was never included in its dictionary definition. Most people define “ethnic” as exotic, foreign or non-white. According to the dictionary, though, the word just pertains to any group of people who share a culture, religion or language. This means that I’m ethnic, you’re ethnic and every person in America is ethnic, because we all belong to a group with shared roots. If you’re after exotic beauty, “ethnic” simply isn’t the right term to use.

Moreover, calling someone an “ethnic beauty” is just shy of saying, “Wow, you’re really beautiful for an ethnic minority.” I’m pretty sure I’d be annoyed if someone referred to me as “pretty for being white,” or “pretty for being a redhead.” You know what I’d like to hear if someone found me beautiful?

“Wow, you’re beautiful.”

Not, “Wow, you’re beautiful for having western European ancestors.”

Let’s say no to racism, folks

What would you think if someone called out your racial heritage in an oddly misguided compliment? Terms like “ethnic beauty” solidify our culture’s tendency to view minorities as somehow “other” or “different” than the mainstream. But here’s the thing: we’re not in the 1950s anymore, and “ethnic beauty” sounds just a little too much like the “separate but equal” clause of America’s horrifying racist history.

There’s no such thing as separate but equal, and there’s no reason to suggest that ethnic beauty is somehow separate from white beauty. That’s what the term suggests, right? And that’s racist, plain and simple. It’s especially racist since we normally see the sign for “ethnic beauty” products secluded at the end of the beauty aisle, next to the tampons. That’s quite a message to send.

Tell us: What bothers you about the phrase “ethnic beauty?”

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