Quiz: Exactly How Threatened Are You By Lupita Nyong’o’s Beauty?


You’ve likely heard by now that Lupita Nyong’o was recently named People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Person. Considering the year she’s had, this shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Lupita’s approval ratings aren’t even measured in percentages anymore. Just emoticons.

Still, the idea that a woman with dark skin and short hair can be considered beautiful seems to be a hard concept for many people to grasp. Perhaps because it counters and threatens everything that think they know about beauty.

In light of that, I’ve decided to do a little quiz to determine just how threatened you might be by Lupita’s popularity.

1. Are you a Black American? (If yes, add 3 points)

2. Are you a Black man? (If yes, add 2 points)

3. Are you a light skinned Black woman? (If yes, add 2.5 points)

4. Have you granted or happily received “light-skinned points” at one time in your life? (If yes, add 8 points)

5. Have you ever called someone “cute for a darker-skinned girl?” (If yes, add 9 points)

6. Are you from a state below the Mason-Dixon line? (If yes, add 5 points)

7. Is your name Yung Berg? (If yes, add 122 points)

8. Are you an AKA? (If yes, add 7.5 points)

9. Were you in Jack and Jill? (If yes, add 10 points)

10. Did you think the new Aunt Viv was an upgrade? (If yes, add 5 points)

11. Do you own a glue gun? (if yes, add 4 points)

12. Have you recently called someone a THOT? (If yes, add 12 points)

13. Are you a Laker fan? (If yes, add 4.5 points)

14. Do you just not “get” Toni Morrison? (If yes, add 8 points)

15. Are you stupid? (If yes, add 7 points)

16. Are you stupid, and on Twitter? (If yes, add 27 points)

17. Did you root for Lisa in Coming to America instead of Patrice? (If yes, add 5 points)

18. Have you incorporated the term “redbone” in the chorus of a rap song you created? (If yes, add 33 points)

19. When asked to describe your background, do you make sure to always list Korean, Italian, Native America, red dot Indian, Swedish, Saudi Arabian, Martian, and Alaskan even though you’re a Black chick from Detroit? (If yes, add 14 points)

20. Do you have hate in your heart? (If yes, add 11.5 points)

Results: (0-10 points) Congratulations! You’re not threatened at all by Lupita’s beauty, and there’s a very good chance you either own or are sleeping with someone who owns a “Black Girls Are Magic” t-shirt. Good for you!

(11-35 points) You’re not mad about Lupita. Not at all. But, her success has made you reflect on some of the thoughts and ideas you’ve had about beauty and Black women. Oh, and you’re probably a Delta. Which is better than being an AKA. But still.

(35-49 points) So that was you at Target the other day, buying up all the brown paper bags for some “throwback party” you’re having. Mmhmm. You aint foolin noone, Nick Cannon.

(50 points or more) If you’re not a rapper from the south, you might as well be one.

—Damon Young

On Acquiring A Very Particular Skill…And Watching Your Marriage Murder It

"Ok. She's finally close to me. Try not to slobber this time."

“Ok. She’s finally close to me. Try not to slobber this time.”

I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.

I’m sure most of you recognize this quote from Taken. It’s part of a phone conversation; the most memorable scene in a movie filled with memorable scenes. It’s so good that excerpts from it were even used in the trailer. What made it so effective was the level of confidence and control Liam Nesson (“Bryan Mills”) was able to convey. It didn’t matter if his daughter was in Uzbekistan or Youngstown, you knew he was going to find her, you knew he knew he was going to find her, and you knew he’d do anything necessary to do it. (Well, I didn’t know he was going to shoot his homeboy’s wife during dinner. That was a f*cking surprise.)

Yet, as great as that scene was, what really resonates with me were the early scenes showing how mundane his life had become. Here was this expertly trained and highly skilled government operative in peak physical and intellectual condition living in some hotel next to an airport, eating cheap wings with his buddies, and losing pissing contests to his daughter’s stepdad.

Granted, this “new” life was voluntary. He chose to be more normal so he could spend more time with his daughter. But damn. Without his dumb-ass daughter and her fast friend getting kidnapped, all those years of training and combat would have continued to waste away in a Rent-A-Center barcalounger and a bottle of Jack. This wasn’t just a tiger losing his stripes. This was a tiger shopping at Urban Outfitters and ordering gluten-free couscous at Mercola.

Why does that scene resonate with me, especially now? Well, I don’t possess the skills necessary to murk an entire room of murderous kidnappers with a paper clip and a pair of New Balances, I’m not cold-hearted enough to electrocute someone after they already told me everything they know, and I don’t own an Armenian to English dictionary.

But…I can relate.

You see, I too have spent decades working very hard to acquire a particular set of very useful skills. Skills that don’t make me a nightmare for people like you. But did help me sleep very well at night. I am also better at this particular skill right now than I’ve ever been. (And there’s still room for improvement!) On July 19th, though, these skills will no longer be necessary. I will be a tiger with a bowtie and a bottle of honey Jack.

There are some boys who seem to be born with an innate ability to be comfortable around girls. At least more comfortable than most other boys. I was not one of those boys. The moment I realized I was attracted to girls was also the moment I realized I was completely and undeniably frightened by them. As I got older and entered high school, this fear began to subside. But I never was comfortable. Fortunately, I was good at basketball (and I had nice Nautica jackets) so girls started to notice me. Still, even with them noticing me, I still had to actually talk to them, and all the witty jokes and articulate thoughts swirling through my head were reduced to monosyllabic mumbles when forced to talk to one I actually, gasp, liked.

I got better when I got to college. And by the time I reached my early 20s, the fear was pretty much gone. I could approach women I liked, and I felt relatively comfortable around them, but now I was faced with another obstacle: What the hell do I say???

It took a few more years to realize that being myself — and not a representative of myself — was the best way to pull this off. Just be silly, slightly awkward, and surprisingly inappropriate me…and own it. And, if she doesn’t like me for me, she’s not the one for me. In hindsight, this seems like an easy concept to grasp. But, well, it wasn’t. At least not for me. I guess I’m a slow learner.

It took a couple more years of trial, error, and success for this to all come together. And “all this” includes a better sense of timing, an appropriate attitude and demeanor, a slight tinge of “I-don’t-give-a-f*ck-ness,” the ability to be self-aware, and the insight to know which types of environments are better for people like me and which types of women I’m most compatible with.

That’s over 20 years of very intentional work at getting better at talking to and cultivating romantic interest in women I’m romantically interested in. Today, I am better at this than I’ve ever been. And to be clear, I’m not saying this to portray myself as some Idris/Leonidas hybrid. Just acknowledging that I’ve never been more confident of whatever it is I bring to that table.

But, I’m getting married on July 19th. And those decades of work at refining that very particular skill will all be for naught.

Ok, ok, ok, ok. I know how this sounds. If I used these skills to help find someone I’d eventually fall in love with and propose to, can I really say I acquired them for naught? (No.) Isn’t this the appropriate end to those means? (Yes.) Isn’t what’s happening on July 19th the point of all of that? (Yes.) Don’t you realize you sound like a fisherman who finally caught the BIG FISH and can retire from his earnings but still bitches about wasting all this minnow bait he bought last week? (I do.) Do you expect anyone to have any sympathy for anything you’re saying right now? (I don’t.)

Also, this is a completely voluntary decision. As much as I might have enjoyed field tests with these skills, my relationship is better than that. Much, much better. And, I’m sure these skills will be applicable in other areas. Perhaps I’m done getting phone numbers, but I’ll still be able to get free bagels and hotel room upgrades.

But, let’s take the romance/marriage part out of it. Wouldn’t feel weird to spend a decade learning how to be a sharpshooter, only to never shoot a gun again after hitting a difficult target? Or to wish to be a doctor, go through a decade of medical school, graduate, and decide to teach Zumba instead? Or to develop a discerning palate at a young age, take cooking classes in high school, study all the cooking-related materials you can, enter the culinary academy, graduate, get invited to (and win) an episode of “Chopped”, create the perfect meal…and retire from cooking right when you have enough capital and status to start your own restaurant?

Nevermind. Don’t answer any of these questions. Just know that I have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. But, since they’re not of much use to me now, I’m selling them to the highest bidder. The auction starts Sunday, July 20th, at midnight. The tiger stripes will be first.

—Damon Young

On Giving No F*cks About What White People Think

Look how fun it can be to give no f*cks!

Look how fun it can be to give no f*cks!

There is an epidemic of White male/Asian female couples in Pittsburgh’s East End. And yes, I’m aware epidemic is a pretty strong word, but there’s really no other way to describe what the Gay Reindeer and I witnessed yesterday. While out to dinner, we requested seats facing the window because we’re both weirdos who like to people watch to assign identities to strangers and critique parking abilities while we eat. In the half hour or so we were there, approximately 15 couples walked past. At least 10 of these couples were White man/Asian woman. It got to the point where I thought we were on some Ok Cupid episode of Punk’d.

Intrigued, we started theorizing about the reasons for this popular interracial coupling. That eventually segued into us wondering how Asian women (and Asian men) feel about this…which eventually segued into the Gay Reindeer asking if Black women would ever reach “fad” status the way Asian women seem to have here in Pittsburgh…which eventually segued into us wondering if fad status was something anyone should want…and ended with our plans for a sitcom about Black comediennes performing on the Yakuza dinner party circuit. (Don’t ask.)

That’s almost an hour’s worth of conversation, sub-conversation, and stream of consciousness ridiculousness brought on by the dating patterns of Pittsburgh-area White men and Asian women. And not once was “How do White men feel about being targeted by Asian women?” or “How do White women feel about losing their men?” brought up.

Why not? Well, I can’t answer for the Gay Reindeer, but my reason is simple. We considered Whites as individuals, not a collective. If a White man dates an Asian woman, it’s a choice that particular White man made. He’s not a representative of his race. He just is, and his dating choices exist outside of his Whiteness. He’s a fully-realized person making an independent decision, a decision that effects no one outside of his sphere of influence. The choice made by the Asian woman, however, tells us everything we need to know about her need to assimilate, her docility, her feelings about Asian men, and even her familial pressure to date and marry a high-earning White man.

Of course, this is all wrong. Of course the Asian woman might be just as fully-realized as the White man, and of course the White man might be grappling with his own feelings about Asian fever and the concept of Whiteness. But it doesn’t matter, because Whites (White men especially) are often given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their individuality and decisions like this, while the rest of us are urged to consider what our decisions — good and bad – mean to the collective racial group.

Anyone looking for proof of this would have to look no further than the intraracial criticisms levied this week at Mimi Faust, the women of RHOA, and whoever else happens showing their entire ass to TV right now. (Pun intended.) While the way these people often behave is indefensible, even more disturbing is the oft-mentioned idea that their behavior is somehow “hurting Black people.” And, even more disturbing than that is the idea behind the idea that they’re somehow hurting Black people:

“What will White people think?”

Even as I write this, I realize this characterization of us isn’t completely fair. It’s near impossible for non-Blacks to navigate this country — both figuratively and literally — without having to consider what White people think and/or feel about something. Sometimes that “White people” is just one White person. And, in some instances, a consideration of how “White people” feel can be the difference between employment and joblessness, loan approval and denial, and even life and death. Also, if you happen to know any White people on a personal level, you should probably care about what they think. Not caring is rude and shit.

But, sometimes this concept is taken to a level beyond any semblance of practicality. Sometimes it’s just about thinking that if all Black people act a certain way, if all Black people united to prevent wayward niggas from putting our people back, maybe, just maybe, “White people” will invite us over for Thanksgiving. And maybe they’ll even allow us to sit at the grown people’s table.

That chair sounds comfy, but I think I’d prefer to stand. It’s easier to people watch that way.

—Damon Young

I Watched It So You Wouldn’t Have To: Three Quick Thoughts On The Full Mimi & Nikko Sex Tape


1. If there are any takeaways from the dozens of celebrity sex tapes we’ve been exposed to in the last couple of decades, it’s this: Sex is boring.

Let me expound. Sex isn’t boring when you’re having it. Depending on the conversation, it’s not boring when you’re talking about it. And, it’s not boring when reading or watching something where the sex is implied and the sexual energy is palpable. But, watching two people have sex makes you realize how f*cking mundane and monotonous sex between actual couples can be.

After you’ve been with someone multiple times, you should have an understanding of what they like, what gets them off, and how long it takes to do it. This can result in a 10-minute-long head session. Or eight minutes of missionary pressure to the exact same spot. Or a water break or two if she’s on top and one of you starts to cramp. While enjoyable in the moment, this type of sex tends to be boring as hell to witness.

Ironically, the most exciting looking porno-type sex — with the dozens of position shifts every three minutes — tends to be the least fulfilling.

The porno-type trailer of Mimi and Nikko’s tape was exciting. Because it was shot like a porno, with multiple edits and quick cuts to multiple positions. But the actual uncut footage of two people in a relationship having sex — like the Kim Kardashian and Ray J tape, and the Pamela Anderson tape, and the Paris Hilton tape, and the Drake and Rihanna tape that’ll shutdown the entire internet when its released in July — is boring as the f*ck. Celebrity sex tapes are the Anchorman 2 of adult entertainment. Everything you need to see is in the trailer.

2. I’m not saying that the reaction to this sex tape gives more evidence to how much context matters to women when gauging how physically/sexually attractive a person is. Because women are unique-ass individuals and can’t be categorized as a collective. That would be sexist and shit. But…

…the reaction to this sex tape gives more evidence to how much context matters to women when gauging how physically/sexually attractive a person is.

To wit, Mimi Faust is a physically attractive woman. She has a nice face, a nice body, and she looks like she smells like raspberry iced tea. Nikko Smith also seems to possess a few physical characteristics women tend to find attractive.

Yet, the comments I’ve seen and heard about their looks have been largely negative. And the majority of these comments have been from women. To summarize, Mimi is a wrinkled old hag who’s built like a post office mailbox, and Nikko has a tiny head, a tinier penis, and looks like the Grinch who stole Converse. But, there’s no doubt in my mind that, for the people levying these criticisms, if a woman who looked exactly like Mimi owned a local hair salon, and a man favoring Nikko was their son’s school principal, they’d be lauded for their looks.

Part of this is due to the fact that we (collectively) tend to judge “celebrities” by a different standard. It’s how someone can call Keri Hilson “average looking” without any hint of irony. (Or shame.) But, in Mimi and Nikko’s case, the looks-based critiques have more to do with the fact that don’t present themselves as likable people. For those who know them through Love and Hip-Hop, Mimi is a humorless and hypocritical shrew, and Nikko is just a f*cking lame (Shit, His name is freakin “Nikko.”). Those negative personality qualities seem to have an effect on how harshly people — and by “people” I mean “women” — judge their physical attributes.

3. The star of this sex tape is undoubtedly the titanium space suit shower rod Mimi and Nikko incorporated during one of their scenes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was nominated for an AVN award.

Unfortunately, the shower rod’s stardom is undeserved. That position only works if the man is strong enough to hold a woman up for that long. Leverage is also key. If both the strength and the proper leverage are in place, the shower rod is just there for balance, not weight. Titanium space suit shower rod or not, if Nikko would have let go of her, she would have fallen on her ass. And, as anyone who’s ever fallen in the shower will tell you, falling in the shower is painful as f*ck and makes you feel like Tucker from Something About Mary. 

Considering the rest of the tape, though, that might have been more entertaining.

—Damon Young

Not Knowing How To Feel About Gentrification


Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an op-ed I wrote detailing my ambivalence about the development and gentrification going on in my old neighborhood. It’s an extended version of a piece I wrote for EBONY a couple weeks ago. I’ve included a good portion of it below. 

Although it deals specifically with Pittsburgh, the subject is something I’m sure many (if not most) of you can relate to. We’re all aware of the macro ills of gentrification. People being displaced, businesses getting priced out, neighborhoods losing their identities, etc. But — and this is a question especially targeted towards those who grew up in a crime-ridden area that experienced gentrification and doesn’t have as much crime now — what about the micro? How do you deal with enjoying some of the benefits of the “new” neighborhood while also “feeling a certain way” about the means taken to get it there? Do you feel conflicted at all about any of this? If so, how do you deal with that conflict? And, if not, why not?

My old neighborhood is now the trendiest place in Pittsburgh. And I don’t know how this makes me feel.

I’m not angry about it. The neighborhood is an undoubtedly better and safer place now.

Restaurants stay open until 1 instead of closing at dark. There are far fewer Aaron Rays stalking the streets for red sweatshirts, and there’s a place where you can rent some very ugly bikes to ride from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods.

The shifting cosmetic has even affected the neighborhood’s name. What used to just be “East Liberty” is now “Eastside” — a euphemistic hybrid of East Liberty and the neighboring Shadyside.

This change has crept up Penn Avenue as well. Surreal is not strong enough of a word to describe what it’s like for a person who grew up on Mellon Street in the ’90s to attend a gallery crawl in Garfield.

But, I just … I still feel “a certain way” about it all.

I feel a certain way that the neighborhood’s demographics had to change before it improved. I feel a certain way that others were able to recognize and take financial advantage of the resources sitting right under my nose. I feel a certain way about the irony of me feeling this certain way … but writing this while sitting at Panera Bread.

I guess “ambivalent” would be the word to describe this feeling. But, as many of those who wrestle with the same thoughts about their “new” old neighborhoods will likely tell you, it feels more awkward and amorphous than that. It’s a state of reactive cognitive dissonance you can’t quite articulate that happens when others use the resources you’re sitting on to create something you’d wholeheartedly appreciate in any other context.

There’s a natural parallel between the thoughts I often see expressed about gentrification and about the type of cultural appropriation many white artists have been accused of. But what makes this feeling different is the fact that I enjoy this version of the neighborhood more. Much more. This isn’t just feeling a certain way about Robin Thicke “borrowing” Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” to create “Blurred Lines.” It’s feeling that certain way, but also believing Robin’s version is much better than Marvin’s.

To be clear, “better” doesn’t mean that the new Target is better than the old Giant Eagle or that the new Pizza Sola is better than Vento’s. That’s a matter of taste.

The preference I’m speaking of is less about policy, politics and development and more about memory.

East Liberty was my home. It’s where my dad first taught me to shoot a jumpshot. Where I got my first job. Where I first met the kid who’d end up being my oldest and closest friend. Where I first learned not to trust a big butt and a smile. And where I also first learned not to listen to everything Bell Biv Devoe said.

But it’s also where Peabody High School was shut down for an entire week because a star football player was murdered in a Wendy’s parking lot. And where, since the Bloods (red), Crips (blue) and L.A.W. (black and gray) were at war with each other, there was a span of five or so years where wearing the wrong color could get you killed. And where both a random tire screech and a car going 10 miles below the speed limit meant “Get the hell down!” because there’s about to be a drive-by. And where our front window was blown out and our house was shot into because we lived three doors down from Mellon Street’s Stringer Bell and a rival crew mistook our house for his.

So even as I lament the injection of and appropriation by others in East Liberty — and even as terms such as displacement and pricing-out enter my consciousness — I value the reduction in familiar and conspicuous danger more than I’m put off by the means taken to get it there.

Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette