LOS ANGELES, October 10, 2014—Actress Raven-Symoné was the subject of the Wednesday premiere of Oprah Winfrey’s “Where Are They Now?” She lit up a firestorm in the Blacksphere when she said, “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American, I’m not African-American. I’m an American.”
You could tell that Oprah really did not like Raven-Symoné saying this. She attempted to joke it off and play the objective interviewer, but she was not pleased with Raven’s emphatic statement that she defines herself as an American, not by a certain phrase. Knowing Oprah’s proclivities of late to deal the race card, this is not surprising.
What is also not surprising is the hue and cry on Twitter and in other social media.
Roxanne Jones, founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and former ESPN vice president, took to CNN to register her disagreement. “I get it. Raven-Symoné doesn’t like labels. But she is wrong to run away from her blackness, seemingly hoping that no one acknowledges her beautiful brown skin and the history written all over her face.”
What in Raven-Symoné’s statement reflected a running from blackness or a denial of her Negro features? As though embracing a world beyond yours means that your world is by default despised or erased. This is the same sorry argument people used (and still do) to negate interracial relationships. There are so many fallacies and myths that continue to perpetuate from the mouths of people who like their comfort zone and hate to see anyone else break away from theirs. But that is a subject for another article.
Unlike Roxanne Jones, blogger Awesomely Luvvie does not claim to get it, and seeks to put Raven in her place: “But again, my issue is not mostly in your denial of Africanness. It is in the rejection of your color and your need to other yourself from the rest of us. Pointing out that you have ‘a nice, interesting grade of hair.’ RAVEN. GWIRL. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but our wig snatch can free your mind. Heathcliff Huxtable ain’t go to Hillman for you to be outchea talking nonsense.”
Why is Raven-Symoné’s refusal to use the African-American label equivalent to turning her back on her race? As if a label is anything but a form of categorization. Raven herself said this about her initial discovery of her sexuality: “I don’t need a categorizing statement for this.” From reading the Twitter feeds, very few people are getting up-in-arms about her unwillingness to check the “gay” sexuality box, but plenty of people are highly upset at her unwillingness to check the “African-American” box, and are inferring all types of negative baggage from it.
Back in 1997, Tiger Woods, another supposed “Black” role model (he didn’t volunteer for the role) that the Blacksphere embraced as one of their own (also something he didn’t seek out), pretty much said a similar thing. When Oprah ruled the airwaves on network television, he said in an interview on her ABC show, “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m a `Cablinasian’. He felt the name best captures his racial makeup: a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. Black people got up in arms and called him a denier, a self-hater, and a sell out too.
I listened to Raven-Symoné’s statement several times, and she is in no way denying she’s black. After the big reveal and the subsequent brouhaha, she spoke to Chris Witherspoon of The Grio and said as much.
“I never said I wasn’t black … I want to make that very clear. I said, I am not African-American. I never expected my personal beliefs and comments to spark such emotion in people. I think it is only positive when we can openly discuss race and being labeled in America.” [emphasis mine]
So why do so many other Blacks conflate differences and dissent with denial and self-hatred? Just because one refuses to use that label—and this writer is in Raven’s camp—doesn’t mean you do not identify as a Black person and all that entails. Not everyone needs to run with the herd to know that they are a Cheetah.
Blacksphere “leaders” from Attorney General Eric Holder to Michael Eric Dyson have said we need to have a conversation on race. Yet when someone boldly starts the conversation, and what they have to say is not in lockstep with the racial box the Blacksphere assumes all Blacks should abide in, we denounce that person and try to dress them down—or worse—decimate their character.
Dr. Martin Luther King said “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” From the N-word, to Colored, to Negro, to Afro-American, to Black, to African-American, the label has been molded to reflect the times and the generation; and each generation has a right to say that the label no longer fits, or that it does not adequately define me.
It is refreshing that Raven-Symoné wishes to lead, and I applaud her right to do so.