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.

  • http://CabreraInteriors.com/ Bunni

    I didnt even recognize Kerry on that cover. Its just an ugly azz pic of her.
    Im with Maris on this….thank God I’m hispanic. No matter what milk chocolate cocoa souffle my African American friends try to peg me for, in my neck of the diaspora woods, I’m just a black azz Puerto Rican. Shruglife on these color wars mayne.

    Sidebar: Champy, I have been loving your writing lately. It’s equal parts “this is an important matter we should discuss” and “frankly, I dont give a writers guild lead pencil bic pen fvck about this topic” i love it :)

  • http://www.cornerpolitics.net/ Breazy Taylor

    What’s so wrong in being the complexion, that you actually are? I understand some of us may have endured teasing and put downs as a child, but if you are the color of 3 day old oil and your 38 talking about you are redbone, I’ma need for you to walk towards a cliff and not watch your step. Either that or take a hundred seats with confused ass.

  • Loe

    I really liked your article. It was articulate, interesting, and funny. Maybe Black people in the U.S. need more descriptive categories.

    Latinos have varying categories for skin color, categories that aren’t synonymous with racial culture; at least this way, everyone is represented. Whereas in the U.S., light-Black and darker Black all default to the same cultural identity of Black, not even American (although wikipedia has corrected this); if you want to be American and you’re part or all Black, you’re African-American…even though you most likely have no current ties to Africa; and God-forbid you label yourself European-American if you’re 1/2 sub-Saharan African. At least Hispanic covers all colors and is independent of culture that’s linked to race. But, “light-skinned” people come from racial mixture. And if you have the light-skinned Blacks’ DNA tested, I guarantee that you’ll find a greater percentage of European lineage (not Native American) there.

    These days, racial mixture often means blended cultural identities with kids having contact with parents of different races; it’s not “massa’ is my biological dad, and lets me live in the house, but he treats me no better than the dog because I’m 1/2 Black and his bastard child.” Even consider all the Black children being adopted by non-Black families. I guess being Black is kind of like being Jewish; it’s a cultural identity and also something else; in this case, the “something else” is genetics, often based on the one-drop rule.

    What’s my point? The genetics, cultures, and skin colors of people–labeled as Black Americans–are so diverse to where simplifying people to being just Black and a few labels is an understatement…In the U.S….

    1) there’s no country-wide acceptance of an in-between mixed group between Black and White, as Creole is a very specific mixture that doesn’t apply to all people mixed with sub-Saharan African and European ancestry…

    2) there’s no agreed upon classification of skin colors in the light tan to dark brown range. So indeed, what exact colors are meant by light or dark Black? In reality, there are at least 10 human skin tones darker than Fashion Fair Cosmetics’ darkest foundation shade; and they market themselves to women of color. So what exactly is dark and compared to whom?;

    3) Black people are defined within limited cultural scope, whereas White people are allowed to be/to like anything and anyone. (Liking punk music should be just as acceptable to a Black identity as liking soul. Just like not all Black people have to have a southern-based accent.)

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

    katy is zooey….with nicer bewbs

  • Sahel

    Listen,if the hips don’t move then the azz wont jiggle. If she had a trading card,it would be one of the rarest.

  • God Shammgod

    i think its all relative. I’ve notice that people that tend to be darker in complexion would refer to me a light-skinned, while people closer in hue to me dont see it this way. Basically none of us can agree on what lighstkinned is, outside of Lisa Bonet, lol. Someone recently referred to me as “knocking on lightskinned’s door”, and I cackled like hell at that.

    Then again I went to the Mac Store recently to get my winter foundation and the lady told me I had really yellow undertones….that made me feel some type of way. lol

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