Eric Benet had black people of all shades seeing red when he dropped “Redbone Girl,” a song that found Benet and guest Lil Wayne fawning over a “caramel cream”-colored female (aka “redbone”). In a recent interview with CBS Local, Benet responded to critics who called him out for playing to conventional standards of beauty that value light skin over dark.
“I think it’s its own form of racism,” he told CBS Local of the controversy. “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.”
To be sure, Benet isn’t the only artist who has made a song that emphasizes a type of skin color. India.Arie made a splash in 2001 with “Brown Skin,” on which she waxes poetic about a lover who shares her “mahogany” brown skin. But some argue that Benet’s focus on the woman’s light skin, which has been associated with privilege, downplays darker skin by default.
“There’s a clear premium on light skin and on straight hair, whether it grows out of your head or not,” said Akiba Solomon gender blogger for Colorlines.com. “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.”
As far as Benet is concerned, there is a double standard when it comes to how society and singers can express themselves about a woman’s beauty in the black community.
“You can talk about how wonderful it is to be with a dark complected person but how dare you talk about having an experience experience with light skin person,” he said. “By no way is ‘Redbone Girl’ me professing my preference for any type of skin color. It’s just the songwriter talking about one experience. When people look into it much deeper than that, it’s on them.”
To be sure, Benet is not oblivious to the longtime issues of race and colorism within the black community. He opens “Redbone Girl” with a type of disclaimer that he hoped would inoculate him against such charges.
“I love all women,” he says on the song’s introduction. “I love them dark and light. Short, tall, thick, thin and back one more ‘gain.”
“He’s very specific about saying this is about one woman,” said Solomon. “But he’s not taking into consideration the climate surrounding black woman and skin tone; the long history and what has been said about dark skin over time.”
The complex issues surrounding race and colorism have long been a point of contention in the black community. There have been documentaries and articles and studies that outline this cultural chasm. In the 1940s, Dr. Kenneth B. Clark and his wife Mamie,
conducted the now famous “Doll Test,” that showed young children’s preference for white dolls over black ones. The results were chilling to black families.
While Eric Benet does attempt to provide some sort of balance with a separate song and a disclaimer, Lil Wayne takes a less nuanced approach on “Redbone Girl.” He raps about the pleasures of a lighter skin girls in general terms, as if he’s taking a 2012 version of the “Doll Test.”
“I like the long hair, thick redbone…I like ’em lights-kinned, lighter than a feather…”
Benet says no matter which side of the argument you stand, songs like “Redbone Girl” ultimately provide an opportunity to have the discussion about how blacks view each other.
“I think the fact that we are talking about it, it’s an issue,” he said. “Now it makes me, on my next record, want to talk about an experinece with an Asian girl. What I was trying to do as a songwriter is talk about the beauty of all. One at a time. The fact that it’s so sensitive, we need to talk about it.” —Erik Parker, CBS Local
Check out the video below where Eric explains how got Lil Wayne on “Redbone Girl” below.