Lists, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

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***





Tragically passing



***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.***



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


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




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.***




***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***




***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***




***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***



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”)

The Student essay writing Center provides you with help.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • Iamnotakata

    Can you have the images reinstated so I can get a better visual please? Aside from that I’m indifferent on the whole skin tone thing….I’m so tired of the color struck (i.e the southern black people)…in my opinion if your attractive it really doesn’t have anything to do with skin color. The interesting thing we just discussed the whole skin color issue I my class today.

    • A Woman’s Eyes

      If you think color struck people = southern black people, you need to get out more because it is a nation-wide and global phenomena, thanks to the effects of racism.

      • Keisha


        • Tameka

          Born and raised Southerner here….I’ve lived on the West Coast, East Coast and now living in the DMV. Southern blacks are Not the only blacks that are color struck.

          • Breezy

            No they are not but they are winning the race.

            Its so bad that I have personally experienced grandparents how favor one grandchild over the next because of their skin tone and “good hair”.

            • Justmetheguy

              Co-sign what A Woman Eyes and Tameka said. Apparently it feels good to dump all the blame on Southerners, but trust and believe if we’re in the lead, it isn’t by that much. It was just as bad when I was living in D.C. and Philly. People tend to care about color, mainly black and Latino people. Whites tend to care about hair color, but not nearly as much as we coloreds care about skin color….I’m numb to it all now though, if it’s important to you, then act accordingly. I’m not about to try to talk somebody out of a choice their limbic brain made…

            • Iamnotakata

              Yeah okay maybe I should have been a little clearer…obviously there are color issues everywhere.But as an individual who has lived in the south their entire life it is definitely strong here like no other so yes it happens in the north but you will def be made aware of it in the south specifically TX whether you like it or not.

              • GypsyCurl

                Your statement reminds me of how much people need to get out and travel the world. Actually live somewhere else, not just vacation there. People would see that all of the stereotypes and generalizations and hang-ups we attribute to the black social structure are all present on other cultures.

                • Iamnotakata

                  It so happens that although color is a strong social hang up where I reside Houston, Tx, it is infact an extremly diverse city. Many different types of people from cultures all over the world. I am aware that your shade determines class, and social status in other countries, however it doesn’t change the fact that is a significant issue in the South…

                  • GypsyCurl

                    Diversity does not equal interaction. There are many diverse cities in the US. Yet we still create stereotypes of people. This is because people don’t immerse themselves in other cultures. People have the “You live on your side of town and I live on my side” mentality. You have chinatown, japantown, mexicantown, etc. On which side of town do you live? (I’m not actually posing this question for you to answer.)

                    When I moved to Mi, my first apartment was in an area with majority arabic population. The number one question/comment that I received was “that’s where all the arabs live/why do you want to live over there/you should live in x/y/z area. “

            • ditto

              ditto. I moved south from Cleveland and I’m light-skinned. Blacks FROM the south have said some of the most ignorant BACKWATER stupid comments I have ever heard. In the south blacks are OBSESSED with how “RED” somebody is. How STUPIDLY TRAGIC and ignorant

      • Asiyah

        She’s right. I’m from the Dominican Republic and we’re definitely color struck. DR, Brazil, and South Africa even have color descriptions such as “caramel” or “indio” in ID cards just because we don’t want to be full-blown black. smh.

        • Sandra

          You’re definitely right about that!!! I’m from the DR too and I’m considered “light brown”. I have tons of family members that are dark skin and they would never consider themselves black.

    • Royale W. Cheese

      I’ve lived all over the place, and Southern black folks definitely take the prize in terms of unabashed vocalized casual every day color-struckness. “Good hair” and “pretty eyes” are terms strictly reserved for silky curly hair and light brown/ green eyes. “Pretty/ fine” and “light skinned” are d@mn near synonymous.

      The color struck aren’t restricted to the South, but no where else in te US have I seen it as such a normal part of black culture.

      • Breezy


        I am not a native the South but have lived here for some time and its very unsettling because where I grew up I never experienced this. When my daughter was born my mother in law described her skin tone as “pecan” and was waiting patiently to see if she had the “pretty eyes” like her Dad or if her skin “lightened up” like the rest of the family!

        Silly…PECAN *Still SMH*

        • Justmetheguy

          Ehh, ppl in the South just speak their minds more and are less politically correct. Same for racist folks. Southerners are more outspoken and feel the least shame about their beliefs. I see why you guys think that way though….I actually think the D.R. takes the cake, but they’ve been mentioned already so I’ll leave it at that….

          • A Woman’s Eyes

            Justmetheguy, I agree.

            All it means is that with colorism across the country, some people just smile in your face then talk about you when you’re not there, or treat you weirdly, or do and say weird things rather than the speaking your mind thing that Southerners may do.

            In Illinois, a Black family friend of ours fell out with some Black friends she’s had for years because they were treating her youngest daughter badly and the oldest well, and they are just a two shades apart in coloring. But she quickly picked up on their colorism because of their comments about color and how they treated her daughters.

            Colorism can show up in subtle ways until you realize shyt is stinking.

            • A Woman’s Eyes

              (And I’m only using one example. There’s tons of observations and experiences with colorism I have had nationwide.)

              • A Woman’s Eyes

                The commonality was not region but just being around Black people.

                Matter of fact, I immediately know how I’ll get along with a Black person if they pass the “Are they color-struck” test.

                Dealing with colorism is one thing, as we all have our personal stories, but being color-struck is annoying behavior.

      • Asiyah

        “Good hair”

        So important in DR. Man I remember my mom always telling me that I should never marry a man with “bad” hair. And when I became Muslim my mom said to never wear a hijab because I have “good hair” and it’s too pretty for me to cover it up LOL

  • Cheekie

    LOL, this convo is always a hilarious one for me. In fact, just recently I had a sisterly argument with L Boogie about who was lighter… (I for one think she yellow. Le tee hee.)

    Against my better judgement, I went to Panama for his opinion:

    Me: So who do you think is lighter, me or L Boogie?
    Panama: I think Prince is the lightest of you three girls.
    Me: *absolutely dead*

    I think I’m caramel, btw. I’m pretty close to Eve’s color, methinks. SOME folks see me as lighter, doe. Those ninjas lookin at the inside of my palm. -_-

    • naturalista88

      “Against my better judgement, I went to Panama for his opinion:

      Me: So who do you think is lighter, me or L Boogie?
      Panama: I think Prince is the lightest of you three girls.
      Me: *absolutely dead*”

      Cackling so loud right now *lol*.

    • A Woman’s Eyes

      Prince! Was PJack watching the Unsung on Sheila E? * lmao *

    • keisha brown

      *slayed all over again by Peej’s reply.
      and i repeat that y’all are twins. soo… yeah. lol.

      • Cheekie


        *stomps away quietly*

  • ShardeMarie

    I can’t see the pictures. :-(

    • R_G_Love

      Me either, I keep hitting refresh.

    • Jennifer


    • ShardeMarie

      Still can’t view the pics but I’m going to just go ahead and toss myself amongst the light skinned crowd. Especially since its mid-winter in Oregon and I’m paler than a ghost nowadays. Gosh I can’t wait for summer.

      • GypsyCurl

        We must include the effects of tanning (not intentional tanning but tanning due to just being out in the sun) on skin color. My classification will change drastically depending on the season and how much time I’ve spent in the sun.

        Funny story: I recently moved from Mississippi (sun blazing from March to Oct) to Michigan (no sun from August to June). During the one month (July) MI does get sun, I now get a sunburn after minimum exposure (2 hours) to the sun. I haven’t gotten a sunburn since I was 7!?! And I used have 2 hour long cheerleading practices in the hot MS sun.

    • Chanelle

      I cant see them either

  • Vanity in Peril

    *checks watch. checks VSB. checks 2012 calendar for assuring signs of 2012iness. checks pulse. checks calendar again. checks herself before she wrecks herself. chex cereal. checks out what’s going on on the Golden Girls.

    Geriatric bishes be trippin’

    • Chanelle

      lmao! chex cereal tho

    • Tes

      I now have a sincere lady crush on you. Well played madam, well played…

    • eve

      Ditto Tes!

      • Vanity in Peril

        Thanks ladies!

        Checks in the mail.

    • Jay


    • Aly

      It’s only 5:22, but by far the best comment of the day :-)

    • Royale W. Cheese

      This post is full of win. :)

    • spottieottiedarlin

      I love what you did there!

    • Veronica Tuesday

      Checkin oneself before wreckin oneself is essential.

      Good job.

    • keisha brown


  • Intellectual_Sista

    Ah, Sir Champ, I see that someone is familiar with the works of Toni Morrison. Props to you.

    • Joy

      I peeped that too…

  • TWIsM

    Looks at topic… goes back under rock. Wrong day to come back.

    • nillalatte

      Hides behind the tree behind Twism’s rock. Just ain’t my day either. LOL

      • Tes

        I don’t know who ya’ll are foolin…we see you!

    •!/NewYork2VA NY2VA


  • paige

    Pantie Man …. I can truly sleep knowing you are on the Case …
    Says the “Brown Skinned Chick”

  • rhenewal

    Hmmm. I am unable to view any of these pics.

  • Liz

    smh. what in the sam hill is going on with the photos?

    • Liz

      fixed. smh.
      this post would have made no sense with the photos gone.
      everybody can thank me later.

      • Tes

        Thank you Liz!

  • Miss A

    Funny, I was having a similar skin tone convo with my sister earlier. It seems like non-blacks would categorize us simply as dark-skinned or fair-skinned. And if you aren’t very obviously one, then you must be the other. But we got all these in between tones because no one wants to be classified simply as dark-skinned. So they will say “I’m dark brown” or “I’m hot chocolate with a slight hint of skim milk.” wth does that mean anyway?? Or those ppl who insist that they are light skin when they aren’t.

    • ShardeMarie

      The ones who will put their arm next to yours counting shades “Man f*** that I’m light skinned”

      • kid video

        The ones who will put their arm next to yours counting shades “Man f*** that I’m light skinned”

        You know what grinds my gears…
        I hate being the “color barometer” in the room…thats when im in a group of blk folk of different hues and someone starts describing a person not in the room by their complexion…someone always points to me and says, “are they lighter than him…”

        • A Woman’s Eyes

          *lmao* because I know I judge people who do that. And snicker at the reaction after they’ve done it *lmao*

        • WIP

          LOL @ being the color barometer

          • Justmetheguy

            Yeah, I’m CTFU at kid video, cause I do that with my yellow homies sometimes lol

      • M.B.

        I will (shamefully) admit that I did that once. This lady who was of a medium-brown complexion would constantly talk about how “light-skinned” she supposedly was. I happen to be VERY light. So one day, I was just annoyed with her and I put my arm beside hers to show her what *real* light skin looked like so she would stop talking about it.

        Yeah, I know…not very nice. ;)

        • Miguel

          Yeah I had to do that with my frat bruh the guy had the nerve to say he was light skinned when he was dark brown if anything I just put my arm next to him and I’m more “caramel”/ brown … When input my arm next to his he went ard ard

    • naturalista88

      ” ‘I’m hot chocolate with a slight hint of skim milk.’ ”
      If I ever hear someone say that I just might faint *lol*.

      • A Woman’s Eyes

        Or go to Starbucks.

    • Rewind

      Anybody who is not part of an ethnic group usually categorizes the skin tones as either light or dark. It’s only when you’re a part of that group that the real specific distinctions come out. It aint just us. Every Asian country you can think of does it, Brazil, Columbia, Italy, Spain, etc…the list goes on.

      Humans just love to point out the differences, no matter how miniscule.

      • Val

        True. Indians (South Asians) have a lot of skin color descriptions such as; “dark”, “dusky” and “fair”. It’s definitely not just us.

        • Jay

          Floored @ Dusky.