Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What "Redbone", "Yellowbone", and "Browning" Mean

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision- July 27, 2019

Yesterday as I was YouTube searching through classic Dancehall Reggae songs, I happened upon two records - Buju Banton's "I Love My Browning" and Nardo Ranks "Them A Bleach".* Both 1992 songs from Jamaica include the word "browning". From the lyrics to both of those songs I understood that "browning" refers to a person or people with a particular skin color. However, as an African American, I thought that "browning" meant a Black person who has a brown skin color which was lighter than dark chocolate. I was wrong. That's what "brown" means in the United States, but the very similar term "browning" ("brownin") doesn't have that meaning in Jamaica, and therefore is an example of how a skin color referent can mean different things in different parts of the world.

*Click for a pancocojams post that features those two Dancehall Reggae songs.

It turns out that in Jamaica, and it seems in some or most other Caribbean nations, "browning" means a Black person who is light skinned (fair complexioned). Here are some definitions of "browning" from several online sources:

(These definitions are presented in no order of preference.)
1. From
"Word from the West Indies & Jamaica
meaning: Light skinned girl
red bone

Eh Yute, yu see di browning gyal a deh?

tags: red bone, red boned, light skinned, mulato, ciara" **
by Audience May 11, 2006
-End of quote-
**Commas, and the word "tags" are added for clarity. The word "ciara" in this entry refers to the African American vocalist whose name is Ciara. That name is given as an example of a person who the contributor believes has this particular skin color.

2. From
A term derived in Jamaica which is used to describe a person of African descent who is light skinned.

That gyal deh ah brownin

tags: lightskin, yellow bone, red bone, yellow, red**
by Kelera Nov 21, 2007

3. From **
Buju Banton: Browning [I Love Me Brownin]
"4 those of yu who dnt kno wat he means wen he says 'brownin' he means 'red skin' its a common term used by jamaicans instead of sayin 'red skin' we say 'brown skin' or 'brownin'
“fair skinned” what African Americans call “light skinned”
-jodijonas26, 2012
** WARNING - Many of the comments in this YouTube viewer comment thread include profanity, sexually explicit language, racist language, and other offensive language.
Notice that each of these definitions or their accompanying tags refer to "red skin" or "redbone". A comment posted on the YouTube viewer comment thread given above for the Buju Banton song (definition #3) indicates that "interesting. I'm trini and i always thought 'red-skin' was light skinned, 'brownin' was brown/caramel."
- "Tamikha Figaro", 2009
"Trini" is an informal referent for the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago & those who are from Trinidad. That comment suggests that "browning" may have different meanings for some West Indians outside of Jamaica. But what I think is more significant is the repeated referent to "redbone" or "red skin" in definitions for "browning" or "a browning".

4. From [Added July 27, 2019]
English Translation: Mixed race

Definition: a person who is mixed race with light skin

Example Sentences
Patois: Look pon dah browning deh!
English: Look at that light skin person
posted by alicia.dean.7940 on March 22, 2017

Note that the African American definition for "red bone" is different from the Caribbean definition for that informal color referent.

Here are eight definitions of "redbone" that are posted on from as of August 2013
Disclaimer - The fact that I quote definition from does not mean that I agree with every point made in those comments or that I like all of the phrasing those commenters use.

"Red Bone
A reddish-Brown African American or someone mixed with 2 or more of the following afican american, naitive american,Asian,middle eastern and northern european.

Redbone is often confused with Yellowbone which is a Light skinned African American.

Red bones: Ashanti, Chilli from TLC, Amerie, pillar sanders, Queen latifah, Li' Romeo,

Yelowbones: Ludacris, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Lisa Raye, Raven Symone,Alicia Keys, Tia and Tomara mowry

byTchic, Apr 24, 2008
All of the previously posted definitions of "redbone" basically say the same thing as the definition given above, although some also erroneously indicate that “redbones” refer only to females.

Some of those other definitions of redbone that are posted on also erroneously indicate that, in addition to a particular skin complexion, “redbones” means a female who is “thick” (“well built”; “stacked”) and/or has other attributes that are thought to be attractive by males. Furthermore, those definitions limit themselves to African Americans. However, from the online comments I've read, the term "redbone" appears to be known- if not regularly used -in at least some Caribbean nations.

Here's a definition of "yellow bone" from
"Yellow Bone
"A Yellow Bone is the lightest type of light skinned black female. They can often be very rare to see in comparison to other blacks because there are not as many of them in the general black population. They are usually mixed with white, something similar, of multiple races including black, or may just have another race mixed into their family tree which causes them to be very very light. Their skin usually has a yellow-tan, yellowish-red, or yellowish(almost caucasion- white) look to it.They usaually have hair texture ranging from the typical black female hair texture to natural tight curls, loose curles, wavey, or even caucasion-white looking hair textures. They are can many times have lighter hair and eyes.

Many mixed, multiracial, and bi-racial females are often called Yellow Boned in the black community due to them fitting this discription. Many times a light skinned black can be considered to be both Yellow Boned and Red Boned if she is light enough to be Yellow Boned but still can fall into a tan or redish complextion catagory.So alot of Yellow Bones can also be considered to be Red Bones but not many Red Bones can be considered Yellow Boned. ( yes this can sound complicated if your not familiar to it) They can often even look some what like spainish females but they ARE black.

*** Some examples are MARIAH CAREY (her father is a BLACK hispanic), ALISHIA KEYS( who is light enough to be considered Yellow Bone but can also be called Red Boned because she often appears yellowish red, or sometimes reddish-tan), BEYONCE's mother is Yellow Bone( Beyonce is Red Bone), and Kimora Lee Simmons (founder of Baby Phat)

Man dont worry if you dont know which one is her.You wont have a hard time knowing when you see her- she's the Yellow Bone.

Yeah she is a Yellow Bone but no she aint mixed(her mom and dad look black). I think maybe her grandma was half white or maybe it was her great granddad that was white- I dont remember.

tags yellow bone, yellow boned, yella bone, mixed" **
- byReal Right, Aug 18, 2009
This definition is reformatted for clarity & included other examples of the use of that term.

Disclaimer - The fact that I quote this definition doesn't mean that I like all of the phrasing that the commenter used - for instance "They are usually mixed with white, something similar" or "half-white".

To correct any misconception, as is the case with "redbone", the term "yellow bone" (yellowbone) can also refer to males.

Given that in Jamaica, and probably in other Caribbean nations, "browning" refers -at least in part- to Black people who have a reddish brown complexion, it's interesting that the "brown" part of that definition appears to be emphasized more than the "red" part of that definition.

Also, it should be noted that the term "browning" as well as "redbone" and "yellow bone" carry with it certain connotations which are usually positive. For instance, check out this definition of "browning" from
"Browning- Complementing a black person of light skin, and good complexion."
I wonder if "good complexion" in that definition means having skin that is healthy. I doubt that. Instead, given issues of colorism*** among Black people, I think that the inference is that a browning's skin is considered to be good because it is light.

*** "Definition - Colorism is a practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. In the African-American community, this traditionally played out via the paper bag test. Those lighter than the standard paper lunch bag were allowed entry into fraternities, sororities and other realms of black upper class life, while dark-skinned blacks were excluded. The Spike Lee film “School Daze” is an exploration of colorism.

Colorism mirrors white supremacy in that those with lighter skin are awarded privileges their dark-skinned counterparts aren't--strictly based on skin color."
As a friendly amendment, I'd insert the word "certain" into the sentence about "fraternities, sororities and other realms of black upper class life" that excluded darker skinned Black people.

Although that definition of "colorism" refers to African Americans, unfortuantely colorism as it relates to Black people and other People of Color is found worldwide.

Buju Banton's now classic 1992 song "I Love My Browning" was composed to honor that vocalist's light skinned girlfriend. However, that song probably increased the amount of skin bleaching to obtain a lighter skin color that occurred in Jamaica prior to that record's release and that song probably still influences skin bleaching that continues to be done in Jamaica and in other parts of the Caribbean.

Furthermore, "Controversy erupted over "Love Me Browning" which spoke of Banton's penchant for light-skinned women: "I love my car I love my bike I love my money and ting, but most of all I love my browning." Some accused Banton of promoting a colonialist mindset and denigrating the beauty of dark skinned black women. In response, he released "Love Black Woman" which spoke of his love for dark-skinned beauties: "Mi nuh Stop cry, fi all black women, respect all the girls dem with dark complexion"."

Nardo Ranks song "Them A Bleach" addressed the issue of Black females bleaching their skin to lighten it:
"Dem ah bleach out dem skin
Gal me honour you!
A you nuh bleach out yuh skin
You nuh use no chemical fi look like a brownin"
That video's YouTube viewer comment thread includes profanity, sexual explicit, racist, and other offensive comments. That comment also refers to Black male celebrities who bleach their skin.

Hopefully, the time will come when no positive or negative value is placed on any skin color and people realize that "it's all good".

Thanks to all of those who I quoted in this post.

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  1. "High brown" was another colloquial American [United States] referent for light skinned Black people.

    That long retired term was used in the original lyrics for the Irving Berlin song "Puttin On The Ritz":

    Spangled gowns
    upon the bevy
    of high browns
    from down the levee,
    all misfits,
    puttin' on the Ritz!

    The blogger who uses the tag name "Nameless Cynic" originally gave the lyric as "highbrow" instead of "high brown", but later made that correction and wrote:

    ""High browns" refers to the lighter-skinned blacks who shop owners would hire every so often; I've heard the term before, but you just... OK, I just forget about little bits of racism like that.

    It also explains the next line, "...all misfits" - he isn't making fun of the people watching them, but of the darkies putting on airs, like they're as good as us white folks.

    The original song just gets worse every time I hear it."
    I hasten to note that that blogger's belief that the lyrics were about "the darkies putting on airs, like they're as good as us white folks" was undoubtedly phrased in imitation of how racists talk. But nowadays even most racists in the USA wouldn't use the word "darkies" in public.

    It appears to me that most people in the United States usually refrain from making any comment about skin color in public. However, using generalized racial or ethnic group designations in public such as White, Black, Asian, Native American, and Latino may be acceptable under certain circumstances. But what people do in private or in informal interactions is a whole 'nuther thing. Black people certainly use descriptors such as light skinned and dark skinned among ourselves in informal settings. And I wouldn't be surprised if White people used skin color terms for Black people and other People of Color and even for White people among themselves.

  2. I think he probably just had a Browning fire arm that he loved

    1. Thanks for your comment, GH.

      I encourage people to read the lyrics to Buju Banton's song "Love My Browning."

      After re-reading those lyrics, I still believe that he is talking about his woman Lorna.

  3. Here's a excerpt from Beyonce's 2006 R&B song "Creole" that mentions some of the skin color referents that African American use:

    Creole, Beyonce highlights yellow bones, red bones, and brown bones.

    "So all my red bones get on the floor
    And all my yellow bones get on the floor
    And all my brown bones get on the floor
    Then you mix it up and you call it Creole"

    Click for the complete lyrics to this song.