From EBONY: Black Boys Need Lupita Nyong’o Too

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***Damon’s latest at EBONY on how Lupita’s popularity can have an effect on who young Black boys consider to be beautiful and “crush-worthy”***

From the time I first realized I liked girls (approximately age 8) to the time I entered high school, I had six “serious” crushes. None of these girls were girlfriends–I was far too timid then to make that happen–but each occupied that fantasy space in my heart and on my mind. One was a really good basketball player. Another was a classmate. Two lived in my neighborhood. I met the other two at summer camp.

And all shared the same phenotype: Light skinned, long hair, light eyes, biracial.

I’m not pointing this out to suggest a Black person’s complexion determines how authentically Black they are. Those girls were just as Black as the women I dated as an adult. And, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having a crush on a lightskinned woman. Lightskinned Black girls are Magic too. But there’s no doubt in my mind this crush pattern was a direct result of believing only lightskinned girls were crush-worthy.

I’m bringing this all up because, while much of the conversation about the very public praise Lupita receives for her looks focuses on its impact on Black women and girls, there’s another group who stands to gain just as much: Black boys.

As much as we tout how important it is for a young Black person’s parents to instill an appropriate sense of self-worth, self-love, and racial consciousness, family units don’t exist in vacuums. A kid’s peer groups matter. The images they’re exposed to matter. The media they consume matters. And, I don’t think it was a coincidence my young tastes skewed lighter at a time when the vast majority of the young female entertainers considered crush-worthy (Halle Berry, Aaliyah, Lark Voorhies, Mya, Karyn Parsons, Tisha Campbell, etc) were also light. Even the ones who were browner (Tatyana Ali, Ananda Lewis, Chilli, etc) were lauded for their long, wavy hair–a trait usually associated with lighter-skinned women and not one most Black women posses, not by far.

Also, young people are terribly obsessed with social proof. Nothing is cool until there’s a caucus and consensus on what and who is allowed to be cool. As an adolescent in the early 90s, even if you liked the 4th grader who favorite the first Aunt Viv, it was more socially acceptable to crush on the 10-year-old Rachel Stuart doppelganger.

This is where the endless laud and favor given to the beauty of a dark-skinned Black woman with short, kinky hair can make a difference. Just the act of seeing or reading about this universal praise can light a bulb in the head of a young kid already convinced light girls are the only girls worthy of his extra Nowalaters and Valentine’s Day cards.

Read more at EBONY

The Four People You Meet In Internet Hell

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I spent a decent amount of time yesterday reading tweets from people either upset at or confused by Lupita Nyong’o’s Most Beautiful Woman designation. Why? Well, I’m fascinated with all the nuances and levels to how we (Black people) deal with and feel about skin color. And, I’m equally fascinated by the type of people who’d spend an entire morning attempting to convince people why Lupita is ugly.

Just as I don’t understand the point of Pinterest (Really, I don’t. Can someone please explain it to me?), I don’t get the mindset behind spending so much time and energy to let people know exactly how unattractive you think someone is. Since these are likely the same people who attempt to fry lettuce, perhaps they’re just biding time until their lettuce cools down. Or maybe the anger comes from the fact that they still haven’t figured out how to keep the lettuce from completely dissolving when placed in hot Crisco. And maybe they’re just pissed no one ever took the time to tell them you can’t fry gotdamn lettuce.

Either way, this person, the colorstruck lettuce frying Twitter motherf*cker who’s always mad because no one ever told him you can’t fry gotdamn lettuce is definitely one of the people who exist just to make the internet more Hell-like for the rest of us. Here’s a couple more.

The liberal outrage junky

Although they fashion themselves as the sole arbiters of politically correct decorum, they are meth addicts scouring decades-old closed threads on message boards and reading six year old tweets to find their next outrage high. If the internet ceased to exist tomorrow, they’d be in your gutters and garbage cans, shoving cat shit in their mouths while fiending for evidence of some off-color joke you told in 2007 about Tina Fey and goat milk or that time in college you accidentally spelled “Hispanic” with a lower-case “h” instead of an upper case “H.”

The devil’s advocate (Also known as “Well, actually…” and “No one cares. Shut the f*ck up”)

There is no position they can’t straddle with their elephant child-bearing hips. No argument too airtight for them to challenge. No moment where they can’t not resist having their bitch-ass, whining-dog-wrapped-inside-a-Styrofoam-case-pressed-against-a-chalkboard sounding-ass voices heard. God hates these people. Even more than he hates Cleveland.

The deep thinking troglodyte

No. No one has ever said “REAL females REALLY respect REAL men doing REAL things” before. It is the wittiest, funniest, and most insightfully-ass poignant shit that’s ever escaped a human’s lips. If I had your brain, I’d have headaches all day long because your brain is obviously bigger than everything ever in existence. Including your dick. Which must also be pretty damn big too to be brave enough to conjure some life-changing Jedi shit like that. But, as transf*ckingcendent as your thoughts were, they’d be extra transf*ckingcendent if you put them on a picture with some awkward-ass, mind-melting font, and superimposed a picture of yourself in the background, doing some God-like shit like two handed pushups or adjusting your tie.

Did I forget anyone?

—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

Not Knowing How To Feel About Gentrification

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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

Shit Bougie Black People Love: 15. ’90′s Nostalgia

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Aside from Bill Clinton’s penis and Michael Douglas’ penis in movies starring Michael Douglas, nothing had anything good happen to them in the 90s. It was a truly awful decade. The clothes were shitty, everyone started drinking coffee, and everyone cool got shot or got AIDS.

Perhaps you remember this. Bougie Black People, however, do not. Bougie Black People love the 90s more than anyone loves any other decade, easily surpassing White people’s love for both the 1980s and the 1830s.

This love for all things 90s is only matched by their passion for bringing the 90s back. Hence the reason why, if you happen to ask a Bougie Black Person what they’re doing right now, you’re likely to get at least one of the following answers:

1. Taking a quiz to see which Living Single character they are.

2. Taking a quiz to see which Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character they are.

3. Taking a quiz to see which Martin character they are.

4. Planning a 90s nostalgia party.

5. Planning an outfit for a 90s nostalgia party.

6. Thinking about Lark Voorhees.

7. Listening to Mase.

(Read more at Ish Bougie Black People Love)