The urban dictionary describes a yellow-bone as the ‘lightest type of light skinned black female.
They are usually of mixed race. Their skin tends to have a yellow-tan or yellowish-white look to it. Many mixed, multi-racial and bi-racial females are often called yellow-bones in black communities, due to the fitting description.’
It seems African women without strands of bi-racial DNA also want to look like yellow-bones. An obsession with being light-skinned is gaining momentum in black communities.
Theriso Ookame, is a 32-year-old man who admits he prefers yellow-bones but discourages the use of creams and bleaches, to attain this shade.
“I am generally attracted to lighter-skinned women because I am fair complexioned too. I can however tell the difference between a real yellow-bone and a manufactured one. Whatever happened to embracing yourself as you are? Those products damage the skin. I have seen that with women in my community who looked very light when we were boys, but after a decade their skin is so messed up that you can’t help but wonder: What the hell happened to her?!,” he says.
Few women are willing to discuss their preference for lighter skin. If anything, enquiry is met with anger and defensiveness.
After several tries, one 25-year-old Lesedi* agrees to talk to me.
“Women who are lighter skinned are assumed to be better looking. The dark skinned girl is often the side kick or last resort. It’s psychological and since it’s inherent, we can’t change the way people think. It’s easier to conform than challenge perceptions,” she explains.
Lesedi shares that she has been using a skin lightening cream for two years now.
“Many people comment on my gorgeous skin and beauty. I am enjoying my newly acquired yellow-bone status,” she says candidly.
She would probably receive a verbal beating from renowned journalist Nikiwe Bikitsha, who recently critiqued the use of skin bleaching and lightening products among black women.
In a Mail and Guardian article, she shares an experience she had during a visit to a beautician where she peddled a product promised to improve her beauty. The product is apparently called, White Plan.
“No, this isn’t the title of a long lost treatise on race relations by Adolf Hitler or Hendrik Verwoerd; it’s the name of a skin-lightening cream marketed by a major French cosmetics label. It doesn’t pretend to be something else by using some cheery euphemism such as ‘skin brightener’,” she writes.
Bikitsha argues that in the United States, the roots of this aspiration to be a fairer skin shade is rooted in slavery, when slaves of mixed race or fairer skin worked inside the master’s house while those of a darker hue ended up in the fields.
“Hence the hierarchy of darkness was infused with preference and privilege,” she notes.
She however questions the continued obsession with whiteness, many years after slavery. “Why do we still perpetuate these ideas among ourselves and not reject it with the disdain it deserves?”
The reality is that there are many women like Lesedi who practically defend their right to be light. Their efforts are endorsed by beauty product companies who rake in billions annually, while marketing bleaching products that have words like ‘brightening’, ‘whitening’ or ‘toning’.
A Kenyan model Vera Sidika recently publicly admitted to having spent a lot of money bleaching her skin. Her admittance was met with uproar and criticism. But why, when many other ordinary women take this route?
Sede Alonge, a Nigerian writer and lawyer recently penned an interesting article for the UK Daily Telegraph titled, ‘Not all African women believe black is beautiful and that is OK.’
She agued that black may be beautiful, but so are browns, whites and yellows.
“People’s desire to have a particular skin tone, be it darker or lighter, stems from them wanting to be more attractive. Critics might be unwilling to concede this publicly but the harsh truth is that light-skinned girls in Africa get more attention and are more appreciated than darker-skinned women,” she writes.
“The niggling suspicion remains that my society is more self-delusional about questions of identity and its perceptions of beauty, than it cares to admit,” she further states, adding that if skin tone didn’t matter, skin lightening creams wouldn’t be flying off the shelves.
In the same breath, dermatologists and identity pundits keep reminding that in the long term these products cause sores, black marks (ditshubaba) and even cancer, but this is seemingly of little care to someone hell-bent on parading as a desirable “yellow-bone”.