Colourism is still rife in music – DaniLeigh's Yellow Bone proves it

DaniLeigh isn’t the first artist in hip hop and R&B to be accused of lyrics that glorify light skin women at the expense of Black women, and if change doesn’t happen, she probably won’t be the last. 

Her controversial song Yellow Bone serves as only another reminder that colourism is still prevalent in music, regardless of attempts to push forward with songs that empower dark skin women such as Beyonce’s Brown Skin Girl. 

‘Yellow bone’ is a term used to describe light skin Black women but can also include mixed race women with lighter skin. By dedicating a whole song title to the term is enough to set alarm bells ringing, especially given how these complexions are idealised.

Even a rap god like Jay Z has been accused of colourist lyrics – he raps on December 4th: ‘And all the wavy light-skinned girls is lovin’ me now / My self-esteem went through the roof, man I got my swag.’

Black music has an extensive – and often disgusting – history of colourism which, for those unaware, is defined as the discrimination of dark-skin people within their own ethnic group. 

Colourism favours those with lighter skin tones whether they’re mixed race or light skin Black, placing them on a pedestal that those with darker skin are expected to hold above their own importance. 

To put it even more simply, it would be the argument of Beyonce vs. Kelly Rowland. 

It’s hard enough for women in music to not be pitted against each other or to rise above misogynistic values, but throwing colourism into the mix as yet another type of discrimination to navigate is complex on another level. 

When colourism in rap music is debated, it’s typically about rappers consistently dating light skin women. However, I honestly feel this isn’t where the focus should be. The issue is much deeper than a rapper’s ‘preference’ for dating light skin women. 

What happens in their bedrooms doesn’t have any bearing on our lives but music what’s played on the radio, in cars and on streaming playlists does. 

The root of the issue is actually when these rappers glorify light skin women through their lyrics, comments and music videos. 

A$AP Rocky rightfully received backlash in 2013 when he audaciously gave beauty advice to dark skin Black women and said only those with lighter skin tones should wear red lipstick. 

His defence? ‘I’m sorry if it hurt any dark-skinned girls’ feelings.’ 

However, he then said: ‘Black girls just, ah man, went crazy. They just took it how they took it. This is actually my second time talking about it cause I really don’t really look at it as an issue.’ 

This was basically the long-winded way of saying that classic gem: ‘I’m sorry you feel that I offended you’. 

In one of the most blatant examples of colourism, the rapper Consequence – perhaps best known for his association with Kanye West – once wrote the line: ‘Light skin is the right skin, so you, you, you and your white friend.’ Even as the controversy blew up, Consequence initially refused to remove the lyric from the song. 

Just two months ago, 50 Cent discussed his dating history with Lil Wayne in an interview and described Black women as ‘angry’ and lighter women as ‘exotic’.

You can understand why Lil Wayne’s own dark skin daughter had a strong reaction to her dad laughing at this perpetuation of the ‘angry Black woman’ stereotype rather than challenging it. 

So, when artists of this calibre and respect fuel the ‘light is right’ narrative, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it gives those very light skin women the confidence to glorify themselves in a similar way. 

Case in point, DaniLeigh releasing a song called Yellow Bone in the midst of a race revolution when the Black community are already trying to change discrimination outside of the race. 

In a snippet she released on social media, lyrics included: ‘Yellow bone is what he wants.’ 

This is harmful rhetoric, and suggests dark skin women aren’t valuable on the dating scene while glorifying lighter skin tones. 

In her apology, DaniLeigh stated that she isn’t a colourist or racist. While causing offence may not have been her intent, it’s so important for artists to think about the narrative they are painting through their lyrics first. 

It’s all about taking accountability. 

One person trying to is the rapper Mulatto – or soon to be formerly known as Mulatto. Even if you see it as too little too late, changing a stage name makes quite a bold statement. 

Since 2016, the rapper has long drawn criticism for her moniker. 

The term ‘mulatto’ is highly offensive and antiquated, stemming back to slavery when it was used as a derogatory to describe mixed race people. 

Mulatto is yet to make the grand reveal for her new name but she explained why she was now making the change.

The rapper said on Hot Freestyle: ‘You gotta hear each other out, and if you know those aren’t your intentions and that’s how it’s being perceived, it’s like why not make a change or alter it?

‘For me, it was the name. So now I’m like, “OK, my intentions was to never glorify being mulatto”. So if that’s how it’s being perceived and people think I’m saying, “Oh, I’m better because I’m mulatto” or “my personality trait is mulatto”, … then I need to change the matter at hand.’

Perhaps her name cannot be considered colourism in the traditional sense, but it’s just another form of unnecessary racial division within the Black community when the fight outside the race is already great enough. 

But, as with many things, change needs to start within. 

As much as dark skin Black women have their own power, we can’t fight it alone. Light skin people and Black men of all shades need to use their voices to call it when they see it. We can only see real change if those in these groups take responsibility for the image they portray. 

In the UK, Ghetts – a dark skin Black man – showed how it can be done perfectly. 

In 2018, the rapper released the stunning ballad Black Rose which addressed the ‘disrespect’ and ‘slaughter’ of Black women in society. Ghetts later told me that he felt a ‘responsibility’ to expose colourism against Black women in the music industry. 

Beyonce famously used her so-called light skin privilege to amplify the image and voices of those with darker tones through the song Brown Skin Girls. The way it empowered Black women was unprecedented. 

The path to change is partly down to individual artists but also record labels. 

It’s long been said that the big machines need to crack down on certain song lyrics that glamourise drugs and abuse but racism and colourism should be included in that too. 

Why give a platform and exposure to music that sets progression 10 steps back? 

Regardless of what’s been released in the past, we should be bigger than that in 2021 and beyond. 

There’s nothing to stop songs like Yellow Bone being recorded but it’s up to the record labels to ensure they don’t see the light of day. 

In this new era of Black Lives Matter, there’s never been a more appropriate time for the fight against colourism in music to gather momentum. 

There’s strength in numbers and this cause needs all the voices to make an impact. 

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