Eric Benet's Color-Complex Payday

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

ColorLines' Akiba Solomon unpacks what she says is the pervasive white supremacy that's fueling the singer's plan to cash in on "Redbone Girl" and "Chocolate Legs" merchandise.

Clearly, there is nothing "BRAND NEW!" about using skin color to create or sustain buzz. Last year we saw a "Light Skin vs. Dark Skin" club night in Columbus, Ohio. Atlanta-based direct-to-DVD filmmakers Nico Woods and Rod Hollimon earned a spot in the ratchetness hall of fame when they dropped "The Truth About Light Skin Vs. Dark Skin: Ignorance or Orchestrated?" in 2009. And then there's the #teamlightskin and #teamdarkskin Twitter memes, which don't generate revenue but certainly pay participants in the currency of attention …

Yaba Blay, Ph.D., a Philadelphia-based teacher-scholar of Africana, women's, and gender studies and the creator of the (1)ne Drop multimedia project, expands on the idea of inherent value and the "redbone" description.

"Redbone is one of several identities that are [mainly] about a racial mixture. It allows people to be a few steps away from blackness," says Blay, who has interviewed several generations of self-described Creole women in her native New Orleans about the relationship between color, hair texture and their culture. "For the so-called redbone, her value comes from the European and Indian parts of the mixture. In this way, the woman is a trophy. She becomes social capital, particularly for a black man who doesn't have this genetic makeup."

Even worse, says Blay, is what the use of the "redbone" label in the song says about the humanity of the woman at the center of it. "The assumption is that you know something about a so-called red bone just by looking at her body. In that way, she's still on the auction block. The message is, ‘You ain't sh#@t ouside of what I can see.' And by the way, I see 'chocolate' the same way — it reduces people down to something to be consumed. That kind of thinking robs us of all of our humanity." ….

The tragedy is that once again we're playing out internalized white supremacy, a system that keeps so many people of color — and white folks — hypnotized by flawed and dangerous perceptions. We only make this cursed system stronger when we celebrate aspects of it in our music and our merchandise — especially when we put it on sale for the low, low price of $19.95.


Read Akiba Solomon's entire piece at ColorLines.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.