What's Wrong With Liking 'Redbone Girls'?

The backlash over Eric Benet's new ode to a light-skinned lady has this writer seeing red.

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Eric Benet and Manuela Testolini (now his wife) in 2009
(Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- I find light-skinned guys attractive. There. I said it. The fact that some people will somehow construe my statement as being derogatory or wrought with self-hatred, quite frankly, pisses me off. Especially considering the fact that my husband happens to be a light-skinned, curly-haired African-American brother. Our baby boy looks just like him. Why should I (or anyone, for that matter) have to defend myself for feeling that a light-skinned man is and can be just as beautiful as, say, chocolate hotties Idris Elba and Morris Chestnut?

I'm still fuming over the noncontroversy surrounding R&B singer Eric Benet's latest cut, "Redbone Girl" (referencing the common moniker for light-skinned women). Don't get me wrong; I'll always be ticked off about how he allegedly treated our beloved Halle Berry in their marriage. However, those feelings aside, I find it disconcerting that some black folks feel the need to automatically label his song as promoting light-skin preference and superiority. I'm sure many of those same people weren't waging any online player-hating campaigns in 2009 when he released the song "Chocolate Legs," a melodic paean in which Benet literally sings the praises of a darker-hued muse.

Benet has said that the new song is about an experience with a girl who happens to be light-complected. He also has reportedly called the flap over his song "its own form of racism." Amen, Eric. I agree. Hell, his new wife (musician Prince's ex) happens to be light-skinned. Are his critics asserting that the man isn't allowed to even sing about his own spouse, the mother of his new baby girl? That assertion is truly absurd.

As a light-skinned black woman myself whose physical attributes seem to be endlessly celebrated in American pop culture past and present, it does bother me to see that in most hip-hop and R&B music videos, the object of affection often happens to be a scantily clad light-skinned woman, with a long Remy hair weave flowing down her back.

The fact that many medium-to-darker-skinned sisters are often relegated to crowd scenes or get cameo appearances as merely freaky sex objects or sidekicks infuriates me, too. They rarely get a shot to shine as a love interest or leading lady in most videos, movies or television shows. This painful and humiliating trend needs to stop.

I'm also disturbed, though, when friends, colleagues and even random strangers openly make statements like, "I don't date light-skinned women" or "I'm just not attracted to light-skinned guys." These same people often buttress their comments with "no offense" before rambling on about how they're exclusively "into" chocolate skin.

In fact, I remember back in college when a light-skinned male classmate tried to make a move on one of my friends. Her response: "No offense, honey, but I can't date you. You're too light. I want to have me some brown babies!" We all got a hearty laugh, and I know that the statement was made in jest, but maybe, just maybe, he could have found that to be insulting.

For the record, I am well aware that the "color complex" remains a prevalent problem in our community. In fact, I've hosted several forums on this through TalkBLACK, the African-American discussion group that I co-founded in Atlanta. I also agree (whether the Willie Lynch Letter is phony or not) that this issue is an unfortunate legacy passed on through the centuries of chattel slavery that we endured in this country.

Knowing this divisive and repugnant aspect of our history should beckon us, collectively, to commit to regularly examining our perceptions of beauty and what we deem attractive in general; revamp our vocabulary (do away with phrases like "good hair," "fair skin" and any statement that automatically asserts blackness or dark skin as negative); and take the time to learn more about the roots of our deeply entrenched skin-color issues.

Just because this divisive message of light versus dark gets perpetuated every day in everything from music videos to reality television doesn't mean it should translate into some bogus rule that no black person (Benet included) can ever give props to a light-skinned person. To do so would be perpetuating another form of bigotry and hatred. The fact is that we all need love and want to feel attractive. "Redbones" included!

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM