Raven Symone’s statement reveals blacks’ problem with differences

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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.

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  • you’sajoke

    I agree! People, as usual, blowing things out of proportion.

  • chris

    I always felt the term African American was strange. How can anyone identify you as such? There are black people all around the world. You could be African Jamaica or African British. Or you could be descents of another country of black color, like Haiti. In fact, many blacks in America are descent from Europe. Does this make them African European American? Does a white person get upset that you called him white and not causasian or German American or Italian American? No,he’s white, period.

  • jj

    Thats not the point, first of all she said she was colorless……. running away…… then she brought up her hair which had nothing to do with anything, “interesting grade of hair” aka its not like black peoples hair…. this is the equivalent of a white person saying “I’m not caucasian, I’m American, and that is a colorless person”…….it’s not that big of a deal, its her life but it sounded like she was trying to distance herself from black people. Lastly, calling yourself a colorless American is labeling yourself…..just saying. PS the reason gay people didn’t care was because she might be bisexual plus who she sleeping with is nobodies business, her sexuality is up in the air but her race isn’t, she’s african american. Race and sexual orientation are 2 COMPLETELY different things, it annoys me when people try to compare the two.

  • goldmouth

    She said she’s colorless. That is running away from your blackness and it is highly disrespectful. It is not witty or enlightened but a sign of youthful ignorance. Trust , no color no Cosby , no Cosby no Disney! # foolishness

    • Terry Ponick

      Who’s running away from anything? How is refusing to cave into the racialist view of America “disrespectful?”

  • I cannot think of anything greater than a “colorless” society where we are not judged, white, black, brown or yellow, by the color of our skin but by the character of our soul (respect given). Where a young black, or white or asian, man is seen as a young man, but not as a stereotype. Where a white woman can enter into a business agreement equal to the black, brown, white and asian men around her.

    I so applaud Raven. I hope she keeps talking. She embodies the civil rights movement. If we are going to be equal, we first have to remove the self identifying, and stereotyping, labels we all give ourselves. And the reason Gay people don’t care is that they have had enough of name calling. If you want to call your self a purple passion puppy, they don’t care. They are too busy living their lives. Those that get all bunched up about this stuff need to get hobbies.

  • Ngozi

    i dont understand why the so called African american community is getting up in arms about it. For starters to me If you were not born,raised or lived in Africa, you are not AFRICAN. I support what raven says about been colorless. I mean if people want to move forward in this country they had better start letting go of the past (the hurt and anger) because that is what would forever make them slaves.

    • FLeFlore

      The reason you don’t understand “why the so called African American community is getting up in arms about it” is BECAUSE WE ARE NOT not all upset, offended or concern ourselves with how an individual chooses to identify him/herself.. We are not monolithic, just like all whites are not the same. There is no singular “African-American community ” — with millions of blacks in the U.S., there are diverse communities made up of black people.

      The headline is misleading due to being too simplistic itself: “Raven Symone’s statement reveals blacks’ problem with differences.” Most black people I know — some who are similar to me and others who are very different — have diverse points of view. This should take away any confusion, if people remember to stop assuming all people of a certain ethnic or gender group will think alike. Do all white men and women think alike? Of course not.

  • Maria

    She doesn’t have to label herself African American, but when white people see her, that’s exactly what they see. And if you’re sleeping with women, sorry, that makes you a lesbian. She hasn’t accepted her ethnicity, or sexuality. Plain confused!

  • Playa_of_the_Year

    It’s not the term AA, it’s the fact that she said she was “colorless”, which is seen as running away from her blackness. We do not live in a colorless society and never will.

  • cindyarmstrong

    She learned well from Dr. Cosby. Skin color and sexual orientation have zero influence on job qualification, character development and education potential. We need Raven as an example and she should be lauded for holding her truly nonprejudicial viewpoints.

  • JimmyBiden

    She is African-American and she is lesbian. She may not like those labels but if the shoe fits….
    To those who talk about a “colorless” society, well it will never happen. If God wanted us all to look the same he would have made us all the same. The beauty is in our diversity. The wisdom is in out tolerance of our diversity.
    If this were 250 years ago and Raven was to say she was colorless, she’d be still picking cotton with the rest of the slaves. Luckly for her black leadership (with white help) led an abolitionist movement and later a civil rights movement so she could live free. Blacks should be proud of their history in America because it is a story the world admires. MLK is the global model of peaceful social change. And the great, great, grandchildren of those slaves live in an America that is led by a black president. That’s something. That is something to be proud of. Something for ALL Americans to be proud of. It demonstrates the flexibility of this great society.
    On the African thing, Raven may not know if her forefathers came from Nigeria, Ghana or any other African nation, but she can sure bet they came from somewhere in Africa. So what’s wrong with being an African-American? It describes your heritage and the work of those who fought, bled and died so your black face could have a TV show. It recognizes her roots. I bet her early relatives in Louisiana were begging to be back in Africa when they were being beat by their slave masters. Yet, for Raven, her roots begin in Louisiana. She’ll learn.
    Raven got her start on The Cosby Show, a shoe about an African-American family. All the kids were black. They didn’t adopt any non-black kids. But now that she is richer, she doesn’t want to associate. Just sayin.

  • sheeplearedumb

    Stop the lies, stop giving us ones people identity when we never could identify with them. Here’s the thing The red Indian is nothing more then just a black, mongoloid, Spaniard mix that whiten over the years. Alex Haley had to sell the crowd Roots
    so we can forget who the heck we are and in the mist of that it turn out
    that his show was plagiarize off a white writer’s book. Being that we
    did
    not come from no Africa, we always been here. So get the story right Caucasian
    people are so damn comfortable calling your self native American but do
    you
    care to know the true history “hell No”! ask yourself since we
    “Suppose” to had come on a boat from Africa did ya’ll forget some us
    supposingly didn’t all come to America but the Bahamas and Jamaica,
    Dominican
    republic and so on, Why are we the only ones that called ourselves
    “African American” and they would never Identify with Africa.
    Because they’re not African, they are indigenous to there country.
    Called them African and they’ll have a problem with you, its like
    calling a puerto rican-Mexican. And the crazy thing is white people
    visit there countries all the time and they know those people belong
    there and want us out of our own homeland. This is why Jamaicans,
    Haitians,
    Dominicans and AFRICANS!!! hate us, The Africans hate that we claim
    there culture, They think we are unintelligent and lazy. Where the hell
    were they in the civil rights days to defend us…. Thinking…… even
    they know we belong
    here. We wasn’t taught about the true inhabitants of certain countries like Melanesian or Philippines and what they look like, what kind of racism they face. We fingered it out, well, some of us.

  • Craig Hobson

    I’m a black man period. The majority of people who identify as African American couldn’t tell you which region they’re from let alone which tribe or country that now exists there. It’s a need to claim an ancestry that simply isn’t yours.

  • jg

    The reason why its important is it is heavily involved with the concept of the unmarked subject. Due to lack of representation of any other race besides white being able to carry the title “american”, other races have made it a point that they are indeed from america while also show their race proudly to the world. Also, given america’s history (and current state in all honesty), dropping the Black or African part of the name contributes to the illusion of equality america likes to project. This disticntion is useful when disscussing the very real racial prejudices that occur in america (which wont stop just cause you stop saying youre black or AA).

  • Lee A

    If black people have to call themselves African American does that mean white people have to call themselves Europen American? we are all just human, lets just leave it at that. If Raven wants to be an American she is that and only that, I dont go around saying im White English im just English and dont worry about my background as its history and what any of my ancestors are doesnt affect me today.