Does the term “redbone” offend you? How about when it’s used to confer a level of superior beauty or as a description of aesthetic preference? If you’re an Eric Benét fan, you may have already heard his single “Redbone Girl.” You also may be aware of the controversy it’s stirring.

The song, which features Li’l Wayne, is an ode to a former light-skinned paramour. The chorus is:

She’s my, redbone girl
A bitter sweet, but she’s my world
Coffee cream, thick and lean
My redbone girl, redbone girl, yeah
She’s my redbone girl
A bitter sweet, but she’s my world
Coffee cream, thick and lean
My redbone girl, redbone girl, yeah

This may seem innocuous enough. Benét himself doesn’t outright state a preference for light-skinned women in the song. The Li’l Wayne verse has folks a little more up in arms, with lines like, “I like the long hair thick redbone” and “I like them light skin, lighter than a feather.”

Journalist Akiba Solomon finds the entire song problematic:

“There’s a clear premium on light skin and on straight hair, whether it grows out of your head or not. I’m not a big fan of songs that fetishize dark skin, either. But you could argue that [the “dark-skin” devoted songs] offer some sort of resistance to the prevailing beauty standards. He’s attempting to be provocative. He’s pretending that he’s never heard about light skin preferences. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

In an interview with CBS Local, Benét defended his song and even went as far as to claim that those who took issue with the song were engaging in a “form of racism”:

“I think it’s its own form of racism. I did a song called ‘Chocolate Legs’ about my experience with a dark-skin lady. There was no anger or uproar of ‘How dare you.’ So ‘Redbone Girl’ is one song about one experience about a girl who happens to be light complected, but there was quite an uproar.”

Allegations and blatant instances of colorism are nothing new in the worlds of R&B and hip-hop. Two years ago, Wale was under fire for neglecting to cast dark-skinned models in his video for the song “Pretty Girls,” which was seen as a particular slight, given the title of the song. In Benét’s case, he insists that the song refers to one relationship — and I’m willing to go with him there. When artists begin to censor and edit their experiences so as not to trigger backlash, they limit the work they’re able to produce.

Is Benét courting controversy with his comments about the song? Absolutely. And I can certainly understand why. Despite four Grammy nominations, his U.S. chart history and sales have never been very high. He can use all the press he can get. I’m most annoyed by his penchant for making these stock songs with “girl” in the title: “Poetry Girl,” “Ghetto Girl,” “Weekend Girl,” “Redbone Girl.” Now he’s talking about doing one about an Asian girl? Sir, quit that now.

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  • On the one hand, I understand the backlash.

    On the other hand, I think we rely too much on the media to tell us what’s good and what’s not. How about we turn the TV/ music off and interact with each other in ways that affirm that which is good in each of us?

  • H.Mustermann

    I’m dark-skinned and I think this is DOUBLE STANDARD at it finest. There was no problem when Eric Benet sang Chocolate Legs or when India.Arie sang Brown Skin. So what the fuss? Get over it, he’s an artist and can pretty much speak about anything.

  • Fed up sister

    Even if he did say in the song his preference is light skinned women, so what?!?! That’s his business. At this point in history, colorism is an excuse. When chocolate legs was out and a hit, no one was complaining then. Music is art. Art is a form of self expression. He writes his own songs, so he’s expressing his feelings at some time. And the comment about him never having much success in US charts and him getting all the press he can was quite stupid and has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Get it together, sisters.

    • SayItLoudImBlackAndProud

      Why do you feel the need to say something to defend Eric Benet if you feel the song is appropriate. Thats because you know the song is inappropriate. For centuries dark skin people have been victims of racism so people want to hear a song uplifting darkskin women. People in the black community are tired of the self hatred the.

  • Youwishyoucouldbeme

    I find it absolutely crazy that this song creates so much drama and controversy. Why do we continue to let these Z list musicians affect us so much. Eric Benet had an ode song to darkskinned women, “Chocolate Legs” or “Chocolate Girl” or something like that. However, I must also critique Clutch magazine, particularly writer Demetria Lucas for her article “In Defense of Light-Skinned Women.” Not so much for writing an article that addresses the very real pain that lighter women experience, but for the manner in which she wrote that article. It was completely irresponsible and messy, and I suspect she knew this when writing it, since she started the article off writing “I know this probably won’t be a well-received article.” If you know that, than why are you writing it in this way? It’s problematic and the fact that they closed the comments is indicative of the ticking time bomb set off only to leave the readers in the rubble. You can’t start that kind of controversy and then walk away when things get a little hot. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

    However, I also want to critique some of the comments, particularly those people who act like light-skinned people can never have a sigh moment. I get so irritated when people say “light skinned hurt will never feel like dark skinned hurt.” No one said it was on par, but that doesn’t mean that light skinned people don’t get their feelings hurt or don’t get abused because of their skin color privilege. Believe it or not, being favored is more of a burden than some people realize. My mom grew up in a home where she was her father’s favorite and all the other siblings knew it. And because of this, her father always praised her openly in front of the others. He was also more emotionally abusive to the others. And guess who caught hell for that? She did. And she would try to stop her father from behaving like that, and she spent much of her adult life trying to compensate for that by letting her siblings treat her like absolute shit. They used her, took money from her and my dad, she let their kids come to our home, trash our house with the toys and then leave and not clean up. My grandfather used to show us that favortism too because we were her kids. But truly, part of the reason I believe my grandfather favored my mom, was because she never got in trouble, made straight A’s, went to a great college and grad school and married a successful, loving man. No my mom is not perfect, not by a long shot, but she really didn’t give her parents a lot of grief. And also because her parents had to work so much, she was often the one who had to sacrifice having a childhood and going out with friends so she could be home to cook and clean and babysit her siblings. On the other hand, her siblings cut class, dropped out, had a baby out of wedlock and then went back to school and finished college. One of her siblings has struggled with drugs, the other married an alcoholic who thank God is sober and has been for a while, the other one married a man who never reached his potential and the other one married a womanizer. So they all ended up hurting. But was my grandfather’s favortism of my mom her fault? Hell no and I watched her most of my childhood take on that burden of guilt and let these people treat her and us like dog shit at times. Unacceptable. It’s not light skinned people’s fault that the White man destroyed our race through color. It is their fault when they abuse people because of it.

    But darkskinned people are to blame too, and it is their fault when they turn around and abuse people who they perceive have a privilege.

  • Sally

    The African American community will never meet its full potential because we are so divided. The color of our skin is not important. Why must we continue this foolishness. Other ethnic groups are coming together and their communities are reaping those rewards. Yet we continue with our stupidity. This makes me sick. It is time for us to wake up black people. We have bigger issues like the educational gap and fatherless children. It is time to fix the things that matter so our community can rise.