Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

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”)

Damon Young

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

  • Sahel

    Caramel,chocolate,lightskin lol. Black people need to have an international conference to sort this problem out. This is P.A’s playground and i cede the podium to him and the good people of the A

    • The Champ

      perhaps that’ll be our next panel

      • kidvideo

        Yeah, we can draw up some Venn diagrams and come up with some new complexion names based on candy color(i.e. Health colored, Hershey toned, Zero shade).

        • http://daratmathis.wordpress.com/ dtafakari

          I been almondjoy brown since 2005. I got dibs.

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

      Oh no you don’t Sahel, LMAO!!! The last time I commented on someone’s skin tone, I got raked over the coals about it- despite using my better judgement!

      A word to the wise: It’s probably not a good idea to comment about a topic like this on {{censored}} or {{censored}}. That’s all I’m saying.

      • Sahel

        So what your saying is,because you went after {redacted} about their skin tone you got burnt and your not doing it again. Cool

  • iamnotakata

    I really am sick of people though… Why in the entire h*ll does it matter if Kerry is, light brown, medium brown, or the dreaded dark brown….I am starting to believe that colorism will forever be an issue within the African American community. I am the f*ck over it. Her hue should not matter…what they should be commenting 100 plus comments about is the fact that a African American made the cover of a magazine geared towards a white audience…

    • The Champ

      “Why in the entire h*ll does it matter if Kerry is, light brown, medium brown, or the dreaded dark brown”

      because

      • iamnotakata

        Lol what?

        • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

          because, internet.

          • Yonnie

            Merica

  • Just Kia

    So now it’s a problem that she’s too brown? usually they lighten brown people. can’t win i guess.

    • The Champ

      i think the problem with most people was the angle of the shot, and her hair, and her makeup

      • kidvideo

        I think she looks like an Asian lady in that pic.

  • mizz

    if you really want to see the confusion people have with color, take a look at bitstrips. i never knew i had so many white facebook friends

    • Jay
      • Oshun

        Ooowwee! My handsome caramel
        chocolatte makes an appearance!! *Turururu, I’m loving it!!**

    • iamnotakata

      Lol this!! So yes I agree, one of my FB associates was bitstripping as a white women, but I think she saw how ridiculous it was and added some melanin to that comic character lol

    • jennifer

      SO TRUE. Don’t we all have that chocolate friend who swears she’s light skinned?

      • Sahel

        Lol,you got hit by a down vote

      • iamnotakata

        Naw.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

        I had a friend named Ashley five years ago that swore she was a redbone. The trouble was she was as dark as me! And then she couldn’t wonder why I was looking at her sideways like the RCA Victor dog, LMAO!!!

    • The Champ

      still don’t “get” bitstrips

      • Val

        Bitstrips is the new cute cat/ puppy craze.

      • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

        reactiongifs > bitstrips

      • http://www.soundcloud.com/irapokay Craig

        because facebook doesn’t support gifs. that’s the ONLY reason why, other than people thinking it’s ‘cute’ like Val said.

    • Msdebbs

      I agree…..I guess bitstrips “lighten” you up

      • Val

        I’m already so sick of bitstrips I want to punch somebody every time one hits my fb feed.

        • Msdebbs

          I call people out on the bad ones. If you and Precious have similar features why does your bitstrip look like effin Beyonce??? Be for real.

          • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

            have yet to see a big girl humble herself to make a heavyset bitstrip either

            • PJ

              LOL

            • Dabigpodina

              Because they only let you get so big on there, there is a limit

        • Jay

          It’s like a zombie virus… I keep watching it creep and creep as it slowly takes over my timeline and IG feed… http://static.tumblr.com/2den0yh/crSm2hvmn/walking-dead-gifs-3-the-walking-dead-24299072-450-254.gif

    • Snarkychic

      LOL folks are definitely taking many “creative” liberties when creating bitstrip caricatures of themselves…it makes me wonder what folks actually see in the mirror.

    • jen_vasm

      Bitstrips are this month’s jeri-curls. Step away, Black people, just step away.

    • Desired One

      maaaaaaaannnnnn… I was thinking the same thing. Its crazy to me how off base people’s self image can be.

    • tialove

      Lmaoooo..@the bitstrips soon true…or they be 300 lbs with a slim build avatar .

  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

    Nope not today. I will bask in my chocolateyness and rebuke colorism.

    • The Champ

      bask in deez

    • DG

      Seriously, who is on here downvoting “chocolateyness” and the basking thereof?? Can she (and Eyecande) live??

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        Why do they hate us DG :-( *runs away sobbing bitterly*

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

        Redbones, perhaps?

        *looks around*

        *yells loudly*

        COMPLEXION WARZ!!!!!

        • kidvideo

          Gamma Phi Gamma!!!!

        • Rachmo

          Your complexion wars comments always crack me up

        • Yoles

          is a redbone and yellow bone the same?

          • Val

            Yes.

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

            In the South? Yes.

      • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

        Deltas

        • ForeverCC

          i downvoted you lol

          • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

            appreciate the honesty lol

            • Val

              I know, right, especially around here where we have a phantom dwnvoter on the prowl. Lol

              • ForeverCC

                i did NOT agree with his message. lol i do giggle that someone ALWAYS downvotes you tho…it’s not me, i promise.

  • jennifer

    Photographs are tricky when it comes to skin tone, especially when it comes to ethnic skin. You can just play around with lighting a bit and make somebody look 2 shades lighter or darker.

    • Sahel

      Rihanna,Bey etc…….

      • jennifer

        Eeeeexactly.

    • The Champ

      this is why i keep the lights off at my house. can’t be racist in the dark

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

      “You can just play around with lighting a bit and make somebody look 2 shades lighter or darker.”

      Also known as the typical Hype Williams video shoot, LOL!

    • http://missrosen.wordpress.com/ esa

      ~ Photographs are tricky when it comes to skin tone

      you just reminded me of a story from earlier this year, when curators exposed the inherent racism of film photography itself. the title of the exhibition, “To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light,” refers to the coded phrase used by Kodak to describe a new film stock created in the early 1980s to address the inability of
      earlier films to accurately render dark skin, to quote from The Guardian’s coverage of it http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/25/racism-colour-photography-exhibition

      basically, it is about the ways companies like Polaroid and Kodak would limit the light range of the film, and black skin needs to absorb 42% more light (and by limiting that, you limit how accurate the photograph is). Polaroid used this knowledge to design a camera that was used by the South Africa during apartheid.

      thing i always keep in mind, when dealing with publicity photographs, is that it is a collaboration: artist, subject, and propaganda machine (publicist, publisher, editor, designer, production staff). and let’s not forget Lucky is Conde Nast .. 4 Times Square. this cover is so very that.

  • Lashuntrice

    LOL, this is funny but for real the color confusion is crazy. I say just call me black, so there is no confusion about what I am.

    • The Champ

      ok, black

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      hi black, I’m Tristan

  • Mel

    Kerry is a lovely brown skin. But this cover. Ugh. Who ok’d this?! Frosted nude lipstick on brown skin is always a “no”.

    • iamnotakata

      I disagree

      • Mel

        About?

        • iamnotakata

          “Frosted nude lipstick on brown skin is always a no”.

          • Mel

            You’re right. Frosted lipstick on ANYONE is always a “no”. ????

            • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

              Dang y’all my frosted lipstick is a “no”…..

              • Val

                I don’t really have an opinion about who should or should wear frosted lipstick but that lipstick on Kerry is hiding her best asset.

                • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                  What’s her best asset?

                  • Val

                    Her beautiful full lips. And I think that lipstick looks good on you.

                    • Sahel

                      Yes,it does look good

                    • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                      Thanks. Idk, I don’t mind the frosted lip only because I know that in different lighting the pale pinks can show up differently. The magazine cover was probably photoshopped to high heaven. Doing my bae no justice.

                    • kidvideo

                      It would look even better on my shirt collar…

                • The Champ

                  the lipstick is hiding her thighs?

                  • Sahel

                    Dude,50 points to Gryffindor and a scholarship to Harvard

                  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                    ihatechu

                  • Val

                    Nah, Champ, Kerry lost (too much) weight, so her thighs are kind of lacking these days.

                    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

                      them thigh meats been gone since the chris rock movie

                  • kidvideo

                    HAHAHAHAHA…..etc.

              • Mel

                From what I can see, your lippy doesn’t look frosted or like a lipstick. More of a gloss. But it looks good on you.

                • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                  It’s a creme lipstick and thank you. Definitely frosted, the lighting and poor camera quality are deceiving.

              • Sahel

                Who knew A.P was such a salacious dame

                • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

                  *holds off on risque comment until AfroPetite shows I.D. to confirm her age*

                  • Sahel

                    It’s cool bruh,she’s from NC. It’s legal at 17 i heard

                  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                    You never ask a lady her age *flips hair*

              • Jay

                Um… everything about that pic is a yes. IJS.

              • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

                hi.

              • http://daratmathis.wordpress.com/ dtafakari

                AP, all your pictures are YEA and AMEN. So it is written.

                • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                  Amen and amen lol But thanks :-)

              • Rachmo

                Your eyebrows are great

                • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                  Thanks Rachmo!

                  • Camilleblu

                    Yes AP! You give goodface in all of your pics:)

                    • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                      Lol! I also give good….I mean thank you!!!

                    • Camilleblu

                      Lol…girl you bettastop before you blow up VSB!

                    • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                      Ok :-( I’ll be good

                    • Sigma_Since 93

                      Oooh! I’m surprised @disqus_7RsGiMxhUB:disqus wasn’t all over that one. You served that up on a platter.

                    • Sahel

                      I let it go.

              • Sigma_Since 93

                I’m Sigma_Since 93 and I approve of your frosted nude lipstick.

                • Sahel

                  Don’t you think she should be nude while wearing nude lipstick

                  • Sigma_Since 93

                    Man you trying to get me put on the couch!!!!!??????? My wife reads this blog too,

                    • Sahel

                      She won’t mind

              • Freebird

                Oh, my. Well damn.
                Nothing else to say. Do your thang.

            • DG
  • Val

    As you may know, Champ, I’m not a Delta but I do have a very good friend who is one, so, on her behalf ….

    http://i.imgur.com/JyB6h.gif

    • Sahel

      A good friend ey,am ok with it

      • Val

        Is it cold over there yet?

        • Sahel

          Not yet. But this could end being a super insane winter. Global warming is crazy

          • Val

            I agree. It’s already snowing in the Midwest here in the States.

            • Sahel

              Good for the end year parties. Bad for travel

              • Val

                Yep, if the weather stays like this holiday travel at the end of the month is going to be a mess.

    • The Champ

      Do you ever recover from getting smacked by an elephant?

      • Sahel

        I know of guy who survived it. He actually milked the elephant but it didnt end well

      • Val

        Maybe physically but the emotional pain probably lasts a lifetime.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      All that was missing was some baby powder.

  • eyecande

    Just color me blackandsexy.

    • Sahel

      I agree

      • The Champ

        get a room

        • Val

          An apartment would be cheaper in the long run considering Sahel’s antics.

          • Sahel

            How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood

          • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

            Did we ever find out if Sahel had a yoni???? Questions that still need answers.

            • Val

              Nope. All we know about Sahel for sure is he only eats Vegemite and beef patties.

              • Sahel

                Lol what ???

                • Val

                  Exactly.

            • Oshun

              He hasn’t inboxed you yet?

              • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                No. I wish he’d stop playing though. That forearm was looking right though last night.

                • eyecande

                  Dang. What I miss?

                  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                    Sahel was trying to prove to Val and I that he’s a human. He showed us some weak picture of “himself” in uniform looking like he was ready to shoot his way into my heart. However, we cannot confirm said photo was “him” or that “he” is actually a “him”. *Deep sigh*

                    • Sahel

                      Weak,that photo was taken during a particularly difficult training segment. I find it offensive that you called it weak.

                    • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                      I apologize. How can I fix it?

                    • Val

                      *Shutters to think how Sahel will answer this question*

                    • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

                      hahaha he/she isn’t ready

                    • Val

                      Lol.

                    • Sahel

                      The apology was good enough. My professional ego took a hit. Weak,man

                    • Sahel

                      Hahaha,that is what you get when you diss the Heir to the Disqus fortune

                    • mylesfast

                      What type of uniform was it? He’s already said not American so not bdu/acu

                    • Sahel

                      This has to stop,lol

        • kidvideo

          More like a back seat…

          • Sahel

            Depends on how big her butt is

            • kidvideo

              *Plays “Back Seat of my Jeep” by LL*