The Lightskinned Revolution Is Here, And It Has Been Televised. It's Called "Empire"

VH1 screenshot
VH1 screenshot

Terrence Howard does not belong here.

This, more than anything else, was my biggest takeaway from Howard's historically batshit Rolling Stone profile a couple weeks ago; an interview where…


1. He admitted that he literally does not believe one times one equals one.

2. His admittance that he literally does not believe one times one equals one was only the 7th or 8th most batshit thing about it


This motherfucker does not belong here.

"Here" in this context is not "Earth." Terrence Howard is, by all accounts, a verified Earthling. Presumably with a SSN and a shoebox full of business cards from people he'll never, ever contact but still refuses to throw away, just like the rest of us. No, Terrence Howard does not belong here, in 2015. He's not from the future, though. Everything about him, from his hair and wardrobe (which could best be described as "pool hall chic") to his countenance and the way he apparently comports himself with women, screams 1955. You see him and you have no problem whatsoever imagining him running numbers with your aint shit great uncles (and running through your aint shit great aunts); slacks creased, Caddy clean, and conk right as he offers neighborhood kids Tootsie Rolls while he's tonguing a razorblade. His particular brand of aint shit aint just timeless. It's a relic. A throwback.

Even aesthetically, as most other leading men of color today seem to be built like semi-pro running backs and account managers at LA Fitness, Howard seems intent on remaining the guy who says "I'm good with all that gym shit, yo. I'll catch y'all when y'all get back" to his boys while they head to the Y and he stands on a corner, savoring a square and gas facing city bus drivers.

It's apropos that his "Lucious Lyon" is the main protagonist on the spectacularly messy and messily spectacular Empire, a show that also does not belong in 2015. Sure, the themes are topical, the music is current, and the jeans are tapered. But the meat of the show — the melodrama, the scenery-chewing, the opulence, and the petty — harkens back to the 80s. It is also, true to its throwback form, an unbridled celebration of lightskinndedness. Both aesthetically and thematically. In fact, there has never been a more lightskinneded show on TV. Never, ever, ever, ever. It might as well be called "Lightskinned Niggas Are Interrupted From Doing Lightskinned Things By Taraji P. Henson." Watching Empire makes you feel as if the last 30 years didn't even exist. That the DeBarges weren't predicate felons yet, that Reggie Theus was still an all-star, and that Christopher Williams still had a functional right hand. It's a celebration, bitches. A gotdamn lightskinned celebration. And you're not invited unless you bring a bottle of texturizer.


That it would have its season two premiere fall on the same week Drake dropped an aggressively "eh" mixtape that will somehow find a way to be culturally irreplaceable and double platinum seems more predestined than coincidental. Because 2015 is the year of the lightskint. We do not need any more evidence to prove this truth. No more Splash Brothers terrorizing the NBA with perfect jumpshots and imperfect shape-ups. No more people named "Zach Lavine" winning NBA dunk contests. No more President Obama acting all bad-ass like he's playing spades and the other team bid "six" but only has "four" and there's only two books left and he has both jokers. No more John Legend. We get it. The revolution isn't happening. The revolution has happened, and Wet Wipes Howard and his Terryism are leading the way.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Agatha Guilluame

Does anyone wanna say a few words in memoriam? Meech? Tristan? Todd?

R.I.P Filthier #Gonetoosoon

ETA: Since only Sahel said something nice, I'll say something. This is a funeral after all.

Filthier was a good internet person. A lil' gully but always respectful. I remember that time she came for Rewind's neck. And that time she posted her picture unbidden. That was a good day *winks at our resident breast man, Tristan*. She was articulate and free spirited. And I thought she'd be here to stay. I thought one day I'd welcome her into the ranks of us OGs. Sadly that's not to be. We could have loved you. Bye, hoe. Bye.