We (Black People) Have No Idea What Complexion Any Of Us Are (…And This Bothers Me Very Much)

Don't ask.

Don’t ask.

I’ve tried already. Twice, actually. I’d try again if I thought something would come of it. But, I know it won’t. So I won’t. I know it will never happen. I have no hope. I am hopeless. Devoid of hope. Hope deficient.

But, despite this hope abyss, I can’t help but be bothered by its presence. It is my albatross. The thumb in my eye. The fly in my cheese. The Big Sean in my speakers. And it reared its ugly head again yesterday afternoon.

I was on Facebook, killing time and editing old status messages, when I came across a hundred comment-long thread on a friend’s page about Kerry Washington’s recent Lucky cover. Apparently, it’s not the most flattering picture of everyone’s favorite Bougie Black Girl, and the first 30 or so comments in the thread were related to that.

Then, it happened.

Someone made a reference to Kerry being “browner” on that cover than she usually is. Someone else responded by saying that she actually is that brown. Then, someone else responded by saying that she is actually light-skinned, and most magazine covers go out of their way to make her seem darker. Then, someone else responded with “one dark-skinned sister gets some Hollywood love, and ya’ll trying to say she’s yellow?” Then someone else responded that she’s actually “brown skinned, not dark brown skinned.” Then one of my testicles disappeared for spending too much time in that thread. I still haven’t found it.

Perhaps it’s just another unfortunate byproduct of the lasting effects of colonization, slavery, discrimination, and Erica Mena. Maybe we’re just so varied in hue that we defy any type of complexion consensus. And maybe I’m the only person who gives a fuck about any of this. But, I will forever be haunted by the fact that Black people (collectively) have no idea what color any of us are. There is no concord. No agreement. No concession. Just haphazard guessing. Pisses in the wind. Stabs in the dark. Or, more appropriately, stabs in the dark-brown.

Despite centuries of practice, paper bag tests, colors named after candy, and Delta conventions, none of us seem to know the difference between brown, or dark-brown, or light-skinned, or light-brown, or light, or dark, or…

…you know what? Fuck it. If ya’ll don’t care anymore, neither will I. Figure this shit out on your own. Call Drake dark-brown and Nia Long yellow. Continue to pretend that Beyonce and Jay Z aren’t the exact same color. Argue with your sister when she calls you light-skinned (despite the fact that you are), and raise your hand in the club when the DJ shouts out dark brothas (despite the fact that you’re not).

Just make sure that when you refer to me, you get it right and call me a dark-brown-brown skinned shade under a bite-sized almond Snicker bar. With chocolate sprinkles. Don’t forget the fucking chocolate sprinkles.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Investigative Report: Do Light-Skinned Rappers Really Have An Advantage?

Drake-J-Cole1

Despite his status as The Human Itis, I actually don’t harbor any dislike for J. Cole. I think he’s a genuinely talented rapper who seems to have a decent head on his shoulders and has managed to carve out a bit of a niche for himself. Yes, he tends to turn me into a narcoleptic, but I think that’s more my doing than his.

Lemme put it this way: I’d probably be more of a fan if he happened to be relevant in 2000 instead of 2013. Now, though, I’m just not as carnivorous of a rap fan as I used to be, and Cole’s music isn’t distinguishable enough for it to resonate with me.

Anyway, Cole made a few headlines last week when expressing his feelings about intra-racial colorism, and how being light-skinned has helped his career (as well as President Obama’s).

In Obama’s case, I think he has a point. It’s no coincidence that the first Black president and the three Black male politicians with the best chance of being president one day—Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, and Colin Powell—all received A’s on their paper bag tests. (Ironically, while the biracial thing has been a plus for Obama, he probably wouldn’t have the same type of unwavering support from the Black community if his wife was also as light. You can disagree with me about that, but you’d be wrong.)

Rap is a little trickier. So tricky that the only way to see if J. Cole is right is to examine each of the four most popular lightskinneded rappers today—J. Cole, Drake, T.I., and Common (Sorry, Joe Budden. I guess Kendrick’s not the only one to leave you off the list. I’d apologize to French Montana too, but I’m not sure he can read.)—and see whether their complexions have helped their careers.

Humanitis

J. Cole was a mixtape darling for years before anyone really knew what he looked like. And by “anyone really knew what he looked like” I mean “women knew he existed.” But, while his history may suggest that his looks had no effect on his success, that would discount the Mixtape/Backpack Corollary, which states the following:

All rappers who first made their name on the backpack/mixtape/freestyle battle circuit are generally assumed to resemble the construction workers from Fraggle Rock until proven otherwise. 

Basically, it’s generally assumed that rappers who could be considered backpackers are considered backpackers because they’re not charismatic/attractive enough to be more popular. And, when a backpacker is found to be tall, lightskinneded, and not bad looking, it’s a pleasant surprise…at least until you realize that the reason why he wasn’t more popular was due to the fact that all his long-time fans are currently in comas.

Verdict? Yes, his color has helped his career, but only because of a generous helping of “you’re better looking than I thought you’d be” points.

Drake

At first glance, this should be the easiest examination on the list. He is the country’s preeminent light-skinned icon, and will soon join Al B Sure, El Debarge, and Terrance Howard—whose 2005 may have been the best light-skinned year in light-skinned historyon the Light-Skinned Mt. Rushmore.

But, while much of his fame is undoubtedly due to women fawning over his flurry eyebrowed lightskinndedness, I actually think his look has been more of a negative than a positive for him.

Why? Well, for one simple reason:

Drake is a great rapper. 

I know, I know, I know. The only time “Drake,” “great,” and “rapping” should be in the same sentence is “Drake is really great at wrapping his arms all the way around you when he hugs.” Despite his popularity, he is a perpetual punchline who is often cited as the primary example of the pervasive bitchassness permeating the rap game.

But, regardless of how you feel about his widow’s peak, wardrobe choices, whine sessions on wax, and the fact that he somehow always manages to look wet, beneath all of that is a foundation made possible by the popularity of his mixtapes—mixtapes that featured some legitimately standout rapping. This standout rapping has continued on his albums and most of the tracks he’s been featured on in the past three years.

Yet, his persona has made it near blasphemous for anyone not a 19 year old college sophomore to publicly admit he’s good at rapping, and his look—seriously, if you drew a picture of Drake, the color of the crayon used to shade in his face would be “brunch”—definitely contributes to that.

Verdict: Yes and No. Yes, because his light-skindedness allows him to murder Amanda Bynes’ vagina. No, because just the simple act of writing that Drake was a great rapper caused one of my testicles to bounce.

T.I.

Perhaps no other rapper in rap history has a bigger distance between “the type of rap music he creates” and “the size you’d expect a person creating that type of rap music would be.” It still amazes me that some of the hardest, thuggest, and most gas face-inducing music of the last decade was made by someone who can fit inside a woman’s Timberland.

This in mind, there’s no doubt his light-skinnededness has hurt him.

I’m sure he’s aware of his (lack of) size. And, when you combine this with the fact that lighter-skinned men are often considered to be “softer” than their darker-skinned brethren, the 44783293 gun charges he’s received over the past several years start to make sense. But, while gun charges are usually boons to the careers of other rappers, each case has made T.I. considerably worse at rapping. It’s a paradox where his light-skinnededness made him harder off record, indirectly leading to him kinda sucking on record.

Verdict: A resounding no. After starting out as a southern Ice Cube, Tip is a predicate charge away from going full Bruce Jenner.

Common

Verdict: Yes! Dark-skinned rappers who go eight years without releasing relevant albums don’t go on Bill Maher, don’t give invited to the White House, and damn sure don’t date Serena.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Why It’s Wrong, Stupid, And Self-Defeating To Be Mad About Eric Benet’s “Redbone Girl”

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Twitter is how our reactions to it instinctively let us know exactly how “relevant” a star currently happens to be. For instance, no one bats an eye if a name like Obama, Lebron, or Rihanna is repeatably showing up in people’s mentions. The same concept could be applied to someone like Stevie J, except that for someone like him, their “relevance” is completely time dependent. (In Stevie J’s case, it’s dependent on whether “Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta” is currently airing or if Joseline has murdered him yet)

On the other hand, you have celebrities so far off the current relevancy grid that their name trending only inspires one immediate reaction:

“Oh shit, **** just died!”

With that being said, you can imagine my elation last week when seeing Eric Benet’s name all over Twitter, immediately thinking he was dead, feeling bad, feeling even worse for not feeling as bad as I thought I should, feeling completely shitty for asking myself if it would be wrong to sleep with a woman who used to be married to a dead guy, and feeling much better when seeing that he was in fact alive and that the only reason why he was trending was because of a song he recently released.

The song? “Redbone Girl.” The tweet-able issue? Some people were feeling a certain way about the fact that he devoted an entire song to light-skinned Black women.

After listening to the song and reading a few of the articles devoted to it, I knew what my official stance would be — “This controversy is so f*cking stupid it’s making my ears bleed” — but I wasn’t quite sure which angle I would take when writing about it.

I initially considered making a list titled “10 Reasons Why It’s Wrong To Be Mad About Eric Benet’s “Redbone Girl.” That list would have included perfectly legitimate reasons such as “Light-skinned Black women are Black people too” and “No one gave a shit when he made “Chocolate Legs,” and I also would have touched on how insane we looked giving a light brown-skinned Black man — Yes. Eric Benet is light brown-skinned. The only way he wouldn’t pass a paper bag test is if the paper bags had malaria — shit about writing a song devoted to light-skinned Black women. (“Damn you, Black man, for writing a song about women who happen to the same complexion you happen to be, you self-hating motherf*cker“)

Thing is, while that list would have worked, it would have taken attention away from what I hope is the main takeaway from this, Namely, the fact that becoming upset with people for praising lighter-skinned Black women does nothing but reinforce the opinion that lighter-skinned Black women are, in fact, generally more physically attractive than their darker counterparts. It’s affirmative action for attraction.

I understand that those upset with the Black community’s perpetual praise of mulatto redbone, quadroon, octoroon, and half-cave women feel that the criticism of said praise has historical and sociological merit. This is not incorrect. We have a long and complicated history of giving women “points” just for looking closer to White than other Black women. Even many of the darker-skinned Black women universally praised for their beauty tend to have physical features more synonymous with lighter-skinned women.

Thing is, while complaining about unfairness and eventually demanding that things are made more fair works with other injustices, you cannot demand that people start finding other people more attractive. Physical attraction just doesn’t work like that. You can’t rely on guilt or obligation to make things “equal”. Erections don’t give a damn about social justice.

And, as I said earlier, this process becomes self-defeating because when a person complains about the praise of light-skinned women it implies that the person doing the complaining also feels that light-skinned women are more attractive. It’s as if they’re saying “Them bitches already on top. They don’t need no more praise” — an assertion that makes their gripes disingenuous. It’s not about appreciating what other shades have to offer as much as it’s acquiescing to “defeat” and asking the victors not to stomp on your grave. You want men — and, to be clear, this isn’t all Black men. Not even most — to start praising darker-skinned Black woman more? Instead of getting pissed about the attention redbones receive, start the process by…not caring. Or, even better, start praising darker-skinned women more yourself.

Now, should I have touched on the fact that Eric Benet reached out to Lil Wayne — the founder, president, and social media manager of “f*ckdarkbuttbitches.com” — to drop a verse for this song? Maybe. Am I being generous with the hyperbole by calling this issue about a song seven people outside of the Benet family have actually heard a “controversy?” Definitely. You’ll have to forgive me, though. I’m just glad Eric Benet is still living, and I suggest those sore about redbone chicks getting praise from singers and rappers they wouldn’t be interested in dating anyway start living too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Thoughts On The Light-Skinned Beef Heard Round The World, And More…

It was all good just a week ago

1. The Increasingly Bizarre Chris Brown (IBCB for short) is becoming a caricature of himself

You know how in every crime/heist movie, there’s always that one skittish and perpetually sweaty guy who no one really wants to talk to, no one ever wants to partner with, no one trusts with a gun? The guy with strange clothes and “unique” hygiene that’s only involved with the crew because…well, no one really knows why he’s involved with the crew, and the only reason his character was even written was to provide an in-house foil to annoy (and potentially sabotage) the rest of the characters?

Well, I’m not going to say that IBCB is becoming that guy, but IBCB is becoming that guy. His continued descent from “boy next door” to“that sweaty, skeevy, rapey guy with the platinum Caesar and the sleeveless jean jacket doing push-ups in a bar bathroom” has been amazing to witness. You can even argue that Britney Spears is the only other celebrity ever to go from “widespread heartthrob” to “person who creeps the hell out of everyone with an IQ over 86” as quickly as he has.

***“BOY FIGHT! Thoughts on the (Alleged) Drake v. Chris Brown Beef”— my latest at Ebony.com (and an article I obviously did not title) — lists four of my initial thoughts about what could be the most entertaining beef in hip-hop history. While I definitely want you to go over there and read the rest of the list, here are a couple more quick things I want to add

1. As much as I chide toughDrake for being, to quote Big Ghost, “the human electric slide,” I actually don’t dislike him or his music at all. I know his latest album was full of songs that may not even actually be songs, but I’ve stopped expecting him to live up to the expectations he set with “So Far Gone” and “Comeback Season” and just accepted him for who he is — a diabolical (Yes. Diabolical. “Marvin’s Room” was some diabolical-ass shit) stripper-saving “Merchant of Cuddles,” and a talented guy who makes decent albums that you wouldn’t be caught dead actually listening to.

2. Apparently, a three-way series of passive aggressive Rihanna-related tweets between toughDrake, IBCB, and…Meek Mill preceded all of this. Somewhere, Suge Knight is spinning in his grave. (and eating waffles)

3. Rihanna still scares the shit out of me. And by “scares the hell out of me” I mean “somehow simultaneously arouses and scares the hell out of me.” I’ve never been more attracted to a woman who I didn’t think was really all that attractive. Her p*ssy is a paradox, and I somehow feel haunted by it just by typing her name. Basically, she’s the coital “Candyman.”

If this doesn’t make any sense, good. It doesn’t to me either.

***Before you leave today, I want you to go and check out Anything But Style. It’s a fashion blog run by a good friend of mine, and she decided to celebrate her blog’s one year anniversary by launching her own online vintage clothing store today. Although she’s a (gasp) Delta, I’m very proud of her for setting a goal and doing what she needed to do to accomplish it.

***Lastly, check out A.P., this week’s Very Smart Single, and hit us up at contact@verysmartbrothas.com if interested in getting to know her better.

That’s it for me today. People of VSB.com, what’s new on your ends of the world and shit?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Black People’s Color Spectrum To End All Color Spectrums

***A version of this entry was originally posted three years ago, but an argument I had with a friend who swears she’s not light-skinned prompted me to repost***

Despite our preoccupation with color, skin tone, and shade, our definitions of exactly what makes someone light or dark-skinned remain somewhat arbitrary, and completely confusing.

Don’t believe me?

Ask 20 black people tomorrow to name a light-skinned black celebrity, and your answers will run the gamut from Tracie Ellis Ross to Jay-Z, two people who resemble even-toed ungulates more than they do each other.

As long as our definitions remain so variable, we’ll continue to have 60 year old black men (ie: my dad) who need to be told by their wives and sons that they’re not the same complexion as Courtney B. Vance.

Today, I’ve decided to put an end to this confusion with the VSB Spectrum, an all-encompassing and omniscient ledger letting us all know exactly where we all stand, once and for all.

***Pics added for clarity***

Albino

mcx0707beskin004-med

Passing

jennifer-beals-picture-4

Tragically passing

mariah-carey-new

LIGHT-SKINNED

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***I’ve found that hair and features determine a huge role in the perception of where a person should be placed in this part of the list. For instance, if you look at their pics side-by-side, Keyshia Cole is at least a shade lighter than Beyonce. Yet, most people probably assume the thundergoat is lighter because of her weave hair and creole
hybrid features.***

lisa

LIGHT BROWN-SKINNED

Obama 2008

***This is where the paper-bag test officially ends. This also represents the end of light-skinned points, and light-skinned guilt (where light-skinned people get so self-conscious about their lack of melanin that they try extra hard to be extra black. I call this the Micheal Eric Dyson Corollary)***

Lloyd Banks

Caramel

***Although this word isn’t gender-specific in theory, a straight man usually shouldn’t be described as caramel. ***

 

eve

BROWN-SKINNED

Pauley Pavilion

***The easiest place on the list, brown-skinned bastards can live their entire life without the hyper color-consciousness plaguing the rest of the spectrum. They can date whoever they want without being labeled as colorstruck or an overcompensator, and they are typically free of the color-centric insults (high-yellow b*tch, african booty scracther, etc) thrown towards other ends of the spectrum. If it sounds like i’m hating, good. Mission accomplished.***

angela-bassett_l

DARK BROWN-SKINNED

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***This is the point where it’s officially taboo for a black person to openly profess a preference for a person with lighter skin. Also, there are more black professional athletes with this complexion than any other shade. I’m sure there’s a connection there somehow***

Chocolate

dwayne_wade

kenya

***A friend of mine said that while a typical light-skinned chick is better looking than a typical dark-skinned chick, a banging dark skinned chick is better looking than a banging light-skinned chick. He’s currently in prison, btw. I have no point here. I just felt like sharing***

DARK-SKINNED

kg

anthony_morrow_70700827856

***Its funny how the word “black” by itself has a negative connotation. For instance, my dad said that as a youngster, prefacing any insult with “black” (ie, “you black bastard” ) was grounds for an ass-whooping. According to my dad, it also snowed 5 inches everyday back then, so I’ve learned to take everything he says with a grain of salt***

8-rock

alek-wek

So there you have it. People of VSB, get in where you fit in. Where do you fit on the spectrum?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)