What the DaniLeigh controversy reveals about the ‘desirability hierarchy’

OPINION: Dominican singer DaniLeigh apologized for a song promoting light-skinned women as more desirable, but the damage was done

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By now many of you have heard about the current controversy surrounding Dominican R&B singer DaniLeigh and her ill-conceived new track “Yellow Bone,” but perhaps the only thing worse than how bad the song sounds (audibly) and how tone-deaf the lyrics are (socially) is the failure of a faux-apology she attempted to issue on Sunday after Black Twitter spent several days dragging her.

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But rest assured, this article is not going to be yet another drag, but instead a concise but comprehensive unpacking of WHY this was such a trash move on the singer’s part, and how the response from Black men underlines an even deeper issue about something I have long referred to as ‘The Desirability Hierarchy.’

A weird “flex” steeped in anti-Blackness

For months it’s been speculated that DaniLeigh has been involved in a love triangle of sorts between rapper DaBaby and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Mariah (aka MeMe), the mother of his daughter.

DaBaby and the singer were first rumored to be dating in early 2020 after she co-choreographed the video for “Bop” and he was featured on her track “Levi High.”

2019 Soul Train Awards - Arrivals
DaniLeigh attends the 2019 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena on Nov. 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

“Sis got me blocked, but word keeps getting back to me .. so hopefully the energy is the same in real life,” Meme tweeted last March. And from then, a months-long feud ensued with the two women seemingly taking turns getting the rapper’s attention while sending subliminal messages to each other. One of the most notable moments being when DaniLeigh advised MeMe to “Go get a job.”

So in January 2021 when DaniLeigh released snippets of her track “Yellow Bone” in which she asserts, “Yellow Bone is what he likes” – fans immediately speculated that she was taking a thinly veiled dig at Meme – who is gorgeous and chocolate.

If these speculations were true, while attempting to taunt the ex of her “kinda boyfriend” about him preferring lighter women, the 26-year-old ended up learning a messy lesson about what happens when a light-skinned person essentially admits their perceived superiority to their darker counterparts.

Yiiiikes.

And all this over a man you allegedly only get to keep around part-time. That’s just a weird flex, sis. And a potentially career-derailing one at that.

Anatomy of a fake apology

So fast forward to Sunday, after days of this young woman getting proverbially dragged by her baby hairs, she decides to issue an ‘apology‘ meant to smooth things over, but in the eyes of many only ends up making things worse.

For those who just watched the clip above and still don’t see what’s wrong with it, let me quickly point out the missteps so that you never risk failing this badly.

First off: This “Why can’t I celebrate myself?” argument of hers is painfully lazy and over-simplified.

A woman who is already the mainstream beauty standard doubling down and ‘celebrating’ that privilege is NOT the same as a woman who’s constantly at the bottom of the ‘desirability hierarchy’ choosing to celebrate herself in response to being seen as less attractive.

That’s why “Skinny bitch is what he wants,” “Yellow bone is what he wants” and “White bish is what he wants” could NEVER be intelligently compared to tracks like Beyoncé‘s “Brown Skin Girl.”

B’s song is an act of protest after centuries of our brown skin being vilified and demeaned, while the first three would just be reinforcing the status quo and uplifting a form of beauty that already gets clapped for by default.

This is also why we need a Black History Month but don’t need a White History Month. It’s never necessary to give shout outs to what’s already systemically amplified. How are people still not getting this?!!

Second mistake DaniLeigh made: Anytime you make an apology that takes NO accountability for your actual impact but instead hinges on the premise that you’re some harmless damsel who we ‘misunderstand’ – that’s quite literally NOT an apology. It’s actually a form of emotional manipulation where you get to play victim while pretending to do the right thing.

And please note that before working in digital media, I spent a decade in academia doing work specifically around emotional intelligence. So these assertions are not my personal opinion. You can actually look up what the hallmarks of a manipulative non-apology are and confirm for yourself that this video fits the bill.

Black men caping

If we had to quickly explain this controversy to aliens from another planet we’d simply say, A young Latina woman is arguing with a brown-skinned Black woman over a man. And when she tried to make that Black woman feel bad for not being his skin preference, the Black community threatened to cancel her.”

That is the ugly truth that remains unaddressed and makes it impossible for many Black people to take sis seriously.

But there is one group that broke my heart during all this – a group that was determined to ignore what happened and instead ran to blindly defend DaniLeigh: Black men – specifically Black men who had no shame in admitting they do prefer light-skinned women and anyone who takes issue with that is a ‘hater.’

“There is nothing more beautiful on the face of this planet than a caramel-skinned woman (my preference),” wrote one man who followed me around in the comments section of several Instagram posts including my own, until I finally had to block him. “The main ones that are offended are dark-skinned women.”

Aaaah, the tried and true, “You ugly darkies are jealous of pretty light-skinned women” argument. Should have known that my nuanced unpacking of this topic would be reduced to that.

But here’s the gag though, I’ve actually never directly suffered at the hands of colorism. I don’t have a single painful childhood anecdote about being called names for my complexion, and not a single soul has ever looked into my face and said “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.”

In fact, I grew up in a very pro-Black household, where my relatives ranged from super pale mixed-race folks to sunkissed beauties with skin as dark as night. My own mother, who I grew up thinking was the most beautiful woman in the world, is even darker than me.

So the bitterness that this man assumed I carried on this topic is a work of fiction.

Also – despite his assertions, the ONLY women who flooded my DMs livid about DaniLeigh were my mixed-race and Latina homegirls, all of whom are in the industry, and get applauded for their beauty regularly.

“Omg she makes us Domincans look so bad. I’m embarrassed!” said one model gal pal of mine.

While another lamented, “Color-struck women like her are why some dark skin women don’t trust me when they meet me. And I get it. Women like that give us all a bad rap. I don’t need a song like “Yellow Bone.”

In fact, only one of my lighter-skinned colleagues took Dani’s side but after some dialogue, I think even she was like, “This ain’t the hill I wanna die on.”

So to all the Black men out there who watched Spike Lee’s School Daze one too many times and assume Black woman have cleanly separated themselves down lines of “Ugly Darkies” vs. “Bougie Light Skins” please be clear that this newer generation doesn’t necessarily cling to that tired ‘desirability hierarchy’ like their un-woke aunties once did.

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Now it’s more so, ‘Pro-Black Women & Those Who Love Them’ vs. everybody who upholds anti-Blackness.

And to the men who are on our side and love us fiercely – it’s simply not enough that you exist. Please take the extra step and reach out to men who either agree with DaniLeigh’s actions OR folks like Charlamagne who are “confused” as to what she did wrong – and catch them up.

The world is changing and and we’re moving forward with or without them.

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