When Oprah tries to spare you from Twitter rage and ridicule, you’d best listen. Alas, Raven-Symoné did not heed Oprah’s warning during her appearance on OWN’s Where Are They Now, opting instead to drill two points down even further: That she is an American—as opposed to an African American—and that she may be in a relationship with a woman, but she is not gay—just a “human who loves humans.” Never mind the fact that “American” is, obviously, a label.
People who say they “hate labels” irritate me because it’s a disingenuous sentiment. More often than not, it’s not that the person hates all labels; rather, it’s that they loathe some connotation that they believe comes with a particular label. It’s fair to resent being boxed in or being generalized and stereotyped based on things beyond your control, i.e. your race and/or sexuality.
However, you have to be an idealist, at best, or a gullible sucker to think that living a “label-less” life precludes you from being seen as a Black woman or a woman who loves other women. Such a line of thinking also requires a great deal of delusion. Fortunately, for Raven-Symoné, who has been in the public eye for two decades now, she is provided with that mindstate by way of celebrity and wealth.
Ultimately, though, she will get her wake-up call. No matter how high one imagines they fly above, the world will knock you down a peg one way or another. This never fails.
If you can see what is happening to Black people in this country right now and still not maintain any nominal sense of community, you are not helping. Period.
In the meantime, I can’t help but be disappointed in hearing yet another rich and famous Black person place distance between herself and her race. It’s also ironic to hear Raven-Symoné position herself as so evolved, while also describing her “interesting grade of hair.”
As “one of them Creoles,” I know firsthand that the minute you hear a person of color pick apart their hair texture, simplicity and self-loathing often follow.
Then there was this comment: “I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from, but I do know I have roots in Louisiana. I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person. We are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins. I connect with each culture.”
This is Raven-Symoné. If she wanted to trace her roots, I’m sure Henry Louis Gates would assist her in such endeavors. And if not him, someone else—after all, she’s Raven-Symoné.
As Black Americans, we have had to contend with certain attitudes about whether or not we can claim “African American,” given how many of us cannot directly trace our lineage. And, you know, technically Charlize Theron is an “African American.” But ultimately, the term is a more politically correct way of saying Black and no matter what part of the Diaspora you hail from, you have African lineage. A lineage that is pronounced up and down your body. A lineage that should be celebrated—not condemned, even if indirectly and in faux-progressive language.
There is nothing wrong with identifying as African American, Black, Negro, or whatever other term has been used to describe who we are. That has never been the problem. The issue is not race, but racism. And yes, race is a social construct, but this country repeatedly makes it painfully clear how fantastical the idea of a “colorblind society” really is—from the treatment of the First Black president to Black youth like Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, down to the lack of representation of Black people in mass media.
Whenever someone of Raven-Symoné’s ilk speaks of himself or herself outside, above, or beyond being Black, I am disgusted. If you can see what is happening to Black people in this country right now and still not maintain any nominal sense of community, you are not helping. Period.
Sexuality is fluid, so I can understand why Raven-Symoné is weary of claiming to be a lesbian or bisexual. But even if she is, there is nothing inherently wrong with declaring yourself as such. She has the right to label herself however she sees fit. But forgoing labels is not an act of bravery or even a real act of transcendence.
To truly transcend, you own what you are—and you damn those generalizations and stereotypes surrounding that by simply showing rather than telling.