Does the term 'brunette' only apply to white women?

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

I hear the common argument that brown hair is 'generic' because most people in the world have dark hair. Although some non-western people may also have the hair color (such as Melanesians, Aboriginals, Asians, Africans, middle Easterners and so on), the percentage of those who do posses brown hair outside the West are very small compared to the West (with the exception of Middle-Eastern and some islanders which may share this similarity with Europeans). As opposed to the argument: "Brown hair is the most common hair in the world" made by mostly Westerners (who have never been outside of the West), only 11% of the world's population actually have a shade of brown. Most have black hair.

So, in light of this; does the term brunette or brunet only apply to white people with brown hair? We dark-porcelains and white brunettes have the best of both worlds, don't we? Possessing both dominant and recessive genes, we are a very small minority. Dark-porcelains make up around 6% of the population at large. I love the combination of both light and dark aspects. I say the combination has a very nice ring to it, and it is very unique!

As Gwydion Madawc Williams wrote:

“Most of the human race has black hair. Only in Europe was hair variable, with Brown hair the most common.”

She ended by saying:

“Also found in the Greater Middle East, among Australian Aborigines and Melanesians. They ought to be called ‘brunette’, but I am not sure if they are.”

The reason is this:

According to Grice's Maxims, in order to ensure cooperative communication, speakers should adhere to:

The maxim of quantity, where one tries to be as informative as one possibly can, and gives as much information as is needed, and no more.

And The maxim of manner, when one tries to be as clear, as brief, and as orderly as one can in what one says, and where one avoids obscurity and ambiguity.

When you’re trying to describe a person’s appearance, gender, skin color, hair color, and height are some of the most obvious and visible traits.

Saying “an Asian woman” conjures an image of a female with olive skin and black hair.

Saying “a black-haired Asian woman” violates the maxim of quantity and manner, because “Asian” already makes me think of black hair, so by telling me she’s Asian AND black-haired, you’re not being as brief and orderly as possible.

Try it sometime. Your audience will probably find it temporarily jarring or confusing.

Similarly, when you say “Aborigines,” I might imagine darker brown skin with dark hair — though some members of this population have blond (I wouldn’t call it brown, and neither do the scientists who study the genes associated with this) hair.

So saying “blond aborigine” would obviously help me have a more accurate and specific image. (Regardless of race, blond hair is the result of a gene mutation. It’s thought that blond hair in Melanesians and Aborigines happened because mutations happen — but on islands with small populations, random mutations that confer no benefit can still spread through the population.)

But just saying “blond” would violate the maxim of quantity, because most blonds are of European descent, so it’s ambiguous and your meaning is obscure. Without context (we’re discussing the blond hair mutation in Oceania, perhaps, or looking at a picture of Melanesians), your meaning would be unclear.

Saying “brunette” makes me think of a white woman with brown hair, because -ette is a feminine-sounding word ending, and white people are the population that’s most likely to have brown hair.

If you’re talking about an Asian woman with brown hair, that’s the kind of thing you would specify by saying, “an Asian brunette” or “a brown-haired Asian women” if you want to follow Grice’s maxims. (Unless, of course, your meaning is conveyed without that information — perhaps we’re looking at a picture that depicts one Asian woman, and she’s also a brunette.)

-Eva Glasrud, Gender and Evolutionary Psychologist

Also read the "Ten fun facts about brunettes". It's all about the brunette! 🙌 #classyclassy #darkfeaturesdarkfeatures #nohatenohate #lovebrowneyeslovebrowneyes #LoveBlueEyesLoveBlueEyes #LoveGreenEyesLoveGreenEyes #brunettesbrunettes 👸🏻

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