Lessons from Danileigh’s nonapology
I didn’t know who Danileigh was until last Thursday. I’ve never listened to any of her songs (with one notable exception) and probably never will. I would have been completely content to live out the rest of my life in blissful ignorance, but thanks to Danileigh’s reckless endangerment of her career via Instagram, I now know far too much about the 26-year-old singer.
For example, I know that she was born in Miami and her parents are Dominican. I know that despite her culturally appropriative aesthetic, she is not a light-skinned Black womxn. I know that she is canceled, and has no one to blame for it but herself.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a 1,000-ft view: Danileigh recently released a clip of her new song, Yellow Bone on her Instagram last week. The lyrics were “Yellow Bone’s what he wants.” There are plenty of articles about how deeply problematic the original clip was, my personal favorite is this one, written by Jasely Molina for Refinery 29.
The singer faced online criticism for promoting colorism, to which she responded: “Why can’t I make a song for my light skin baddies? Why y’all think I’m hating on other colors when there are millions of songs speaking on all types... Why you all so sensitive and take it personal... gahhh damn"
See this is what I don’t like about social media. Back in the day celebrities had publicists to keep them from sticking their foots this far down their throats. With social media, celebrities get to share their foolishness in real time. Here’s a word of advice: when you get called out for something that ends in -ism, never, ever respond with “you’re being too sensitive!”
Twitter responded with receipts, including photos of Danileigh’s parents, who are both white Latinx people. Non-black people cannot refer to themselves as yellow bone. I mean, they can, but not without facing consequences for their appropriation of language and culture.
All of this was enough to get her canceled, but I guess Danileigh wanted to be absolutely sure that her career would not survive any attempts at resuscitation, because she then went on to release one of the worst apology videos I have ever seen.
Y’all do know you have the option to not, right? Just wondering.
Back in 2013, Franchesca Ramsey made an excellent video about how to apologize. Ramsey says that good apologies have two parts — taking responsibility for your actions and making a commitment to change the behavior. Danileigh’s apology doesn’t contain either one of these things.
Instead, the singer starts off by explaining that she feels misunderstood. “I’m just speaking on my man. That’s what he wants, that’s what he has.” she goes on to say. “I wasn’t thinking so deeply into it when I was making the song.”
But wait — there’s more! Danileigh goes on to talk about how brown skin women have made songs about their skin tone and she doesn’t understand why she, as a light skin woman, is not allowed to do the same. “To call me a colorist, to call me a racist, it’s like yo, how? I’m dating a whole chocolate man, I have beautiful melanin friends…Y’all really took it there... That’s not where I was coming from, I don’t see my skin as a privilege, I never looked at myself as better than anybody, more superior.”
One minute and 43 seconds into her two minute and 12 second nonapology, Danileigh finally says the word sorry. “I’m sorry I offended you guys, it was not my intention at all.”
*deep, negro spiritual sigh*
Girl. There are much easier ways to commit career suicide. Just ask Paula Deen. There is nothing redeemable about this apology. In fact, the nicest thing I can say about it is that it’s an ideal example of what not to do when apologizing.
There are many, many things wrong with this video — including her platinum blonde boho braids, but since I want to keep this article short, I’m going to focus on three: Focusing on intention, claiming innocence by association, and burying the lede.
Focusing on Intentions
Intentions don’t matter. I cannot say this enough. Intent is subjective, and at the end of the day no one but you was inside your head, so there’s no way to prove if you had good or bad intentions.
As a race educator, I tell my students that Hitler had good intentions... for Germans. Franchesca Ramsey is much nicer than me. She uses the (kinder, gentler) example of stepping on someone’s foot and breaking their toe. The fact that you didn’t mean to break someone’s toe doesn’t negate or erase the fact that the toe is broken.
Good apologies should always focus on impact. For better or worse, celebrities have huge platforms, and with great social media influence comes great responsibility. Believe me when I say no one cares about your good intentions. No one wants to hear that you were misunderstood, or that you didn’t know any better, or that you didn’t expect your words to be taken so seriously. People want to be reassured that you understand the impact of opening your mouth and speaking recklessly to millions of followers.
Here’s what that sounds like: “When I did/said X, I negatively impacted [marginalized group]. I was thoughtless and uninformed about [-ism]. I’m now learning how to show up better for [marginalized group], and that starts with taking responsibility for my actions.”
Innocence by Association
Claiming innocence by association, also called making proximity claims, is another form of evading accountability that does not belong in a public apology. Having sex with a Black person is not anti-racism. Knowing someone with MS doesn’t make you a champion for disability rights. Having a gay neighbor doesn’t exempt you from homophobia.
The very concept is ridiculous. Imagine getting pulled over for speeding, telling the officer some of your best friends are cops, and expecting not to get a ticket.
Proximity claims are harmful in and of themselves because they reduce systemic oppression to a series of individual choices. Good apologies don’t focus on marginalized individuals, they focus on marginalized groups.
Marginalization is systemic. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Periodt.
Burying the lede
For those of you who don’t know, ‘don’t bury the lede' is a phrase writers and editors use that means get to the point sooner. This seems to me like a no-brainer, but public apologies should start with an apology.
If your first sentence doesn’t include the words “I’m sorry," you’re already off to a bad start. Most people will only watch the first 30 seconds of a video posted on social media. Celebrities have no problem understanding this when it comes time to post a TikTok or promote a new album, but when it’s apology time, suddenly they all have amnesia.
The actual apology should be in the first 30 seconds of the video, preferably within the first sentence. Here’s what that sounds like: “I’m sorry for doing X.” That’s it! No need to explain yourself, no need to dress it up, just say sorry!
When you put it all together, a good apology isn’t that hard. “I’m sorry I did X. I realize that my words/actions had a negative impact on [marginalized group], and I’m sorry. I was thoughtless and uninformed about [-ism]. I’m now learning how to show up better for [marginalized group], and that starts with taking responsibility for my actions.”
I wish other celebrities would learn from Danileigh’s downfall and I would never again have to watch a terrible apology video, but that probably won’t happen. I can only hope that someone reading this article will become a celebrity one day and remember me when they inevitably screw up.