Yes. I’ve seen the clip, read the opinions of it, and it’s all over my Facebook and Twitter newsfeed. I’ve already heard multiple times, the actress (best known for her childhood work, and no—that’s not shade. I used to watch Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper) Raven-Symone described as “delusional” since her interview with Oprah Winfrey for OWN Network’s Where Are They Now? series. Symone, to an extent, likely knew what she was doing in stating that not only does she not like labels, she doesn’t want to be referred to as “African-American” or “gay” (as she also revealed that she is currently in a relationship with a woman after years of speculation). She just about stirred a hot pot of “oh, no she didn’t!”, and “she doesn’t want to be black” rebuttals hit the web from quick to judge viewers and critics.
It was a good interview in general because the always opinionated and steady speaking Symone has a great mix of having just enough of a filter to keep it respectable and decidedly throwing caution to the wind when giving responses. She’s always been a sassy person. Even when she was little, and I used to love watching her play Olivia on iconic The Cosby Show, later on with Mr. Cooper. I even remember her minor foray into rap (she was the like, the real Da Brat) that made me suddenly wanna bust some bars too, and then of course she had the successful partnership with Disney with The Cheetah Girls franchise and sitcom That’s So Raven. She also had a singing career, that unfortunately many ignored despite her having some pretty decent pop songs (check out “Supernatural”). She’s actually done a lot, not that anybody was challenging that.
As Oprah had predicted, many people–especially those vocal on social media–I and were at first a bit taken aback when she spoke the most infamous comments from her interview. I was like whoaaaaaa! What do you mean you don’t want to be labeled as “African-American??” or “gay?” The one great thing about being interviewed by a person like Winfrey is that she’s one of those rare people who can get anyone like an open book, but even while I knew this quality of Winfrey and was aware of Symone’s cocksure delivery, Symone’s stance on living in a colorless, or label-less society came across as abrupt and distant to the real “real world” every human being is currently living in. Maybe in her world, color doesn’t exist and being gay doesn’t matter, but in a world where a white couple is suing a sperm bank for accidentally making their baby biracial (black and white), race and racism and many being too uncomfortable to talk about it cannot be ignored. In a way I will defend her opinion, but I will also question it because for these comments to suddenly define her, still says quite a lot about this so-called and obviously not believable “post-racial” America. Symone herself probably could care less, but she did open a window for some interesting self-reflecting.
Initially, I thought, “Here we go again”. And where are we going? To another round of the Don’t Call Me Black brigades. Though this somewhat occurs in a blue moon form, there have been enough blue moons reported in the black media that it might have made you start to think an uprising was on the way. When Symone says, “I’m tired of being labeled…I’m an American. That’s a colorless person. We are all people, I have lots of things running through my veins” what she’s really saying is: I am am American first as far as the history I’m fully aware of and where I was born and raised. I can respect that. When it comes to being “African-American”, she would at least like to know exactly what country her African heritage derives from.
In America, when using the term “African-American” it is used so virtually to physically describe anyone that is American and remotely born-skinned, the generalization has almost become too politically correct. While I also find it unnecessary to then walk around saying, “I’m Trinidadian-American”, or “Chinese-American”, and “Italian-American”, with all these hypenates, we’re going to be here all day, I do agree that to say “African-American” just to keep it moving does unjustifiably connect new and current generations of color to a part of America’s past and that’s not fair. Not every black person or brown skin person in America’s great-great grandparents were slaves. You are suggesting that one’s history, our history, and every black person’s history is just about a one very specific, despicable time period. No matter the skin color, every human being of every skin tone has been a slave on this earth. I even dislike the term “white slavery” What is that saying? It’s odd to see a white person as a slave because the world just won’t let the over publiziced maltreatment of black as slaves remain where it belongs which is 150+ years ago? Obsessed with seeing us as less than? White people can’t be slaves! Oh, but they were. For whatever reason, human beings found it plausible to treat their fellow men and women like shit, and this wasn’t exclusive to black people.
You may be surprised to hear that even some white people beyond the United States don’t like being called “white” as I found out during a short stint I had as a hostess at a high-end restaurant. My co-worker who, on the surface looks “white”, was a native of Jordan , and half-joked that she really doesn’t think she’s akin to the white people she sees and interacts with in America. She doesn’t connect to say a Julia Roberts or a white girl from the suburbs as we might of automatically assume by just looking at her. That was interesting to me. It regards to her looks, think of Rita Ora, who while technically may be “white” has a different set of cultural values that are a mix of Albanian and British and even her physical features suggest more than any white working American actress right now.
This whole Raven Symone “controversy” reminded me of some other incidents in the media, like when Jessica Alba made some honest statements in a magazine interview in that she wasn’t as connected as she (maybe) should be to her Mexican roots and gossip blogger Perez Hilton chose to call her Jessica “Don’t Call Me Latina” Alba for a very long time in any posts about her. In correlation, there’s also the inside joke of how if you are raised by Spanish-speaking parents (like I was, by a Spanish-speaking mother) and DON’T know the Spanish language, you’re some kind of Latino weirdo that’s been too Americanized despite being born and raised in the United States. (You can see in this moment immortalized in one of the first episodes of Orange is the New Black and it’s hilarious).
I ‘ve also got to add this as well. The Raven comments reminded me of what the black blogs are calling “New Black” (basically, the new way of calling a well-to-do black person “bougie”) and this was all the more confirmed with coincidentally another Oprah interview that she held with Pharrell Williams. Williams is an example of the kind of born and raised late 20th century black individual that regardless of their parents ethnic lineage, opposes what is expected of him as a person of color when it comes to stereotypes and interests and like Symone, prefers to believe in a colorless existence. He does live in a kind of bubble in that he didn’t discuss the Michael Brown case explicitly, but will go hard for Jeff Koons and Basquait. Like Symone, he wants to be seen for his personality and likes first, and not their gender or skin color. He’s of a New Black wave because despite representing black people even in the small space he carries with him everyday in the world (which every person of color deals with, and trust me, that’s a lot of responsibility), he’s obsessed with the notion that yes, I am black, but I’m not like the rest, the rest being only into hip-hop/rap and wears Timberland boots or Jordans, and that his failures and success are of his own doing. Read his quote below:
The “new black” doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The “new black” dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re gonna be on.
Williams made a valid point, but with so many still living in towns that act as if it’s 1962, sometimes the “New Black” way of life feels unrealistic and damaging to what’s really out there.
Lastly, what additionally made Raven a definite hot topic is why does it seem that some black people or people of color, or even those that are homosexual or bisexual oppose these labels like “black” and “gay’? Why are they doing that? Why are we the ones always doing this? Does the model Gisele Bundchen say, don’t call me “Brazilian?” I have yet to see a white person say don’t call me “white” or “Caucasian” but this wasn’t the first time a black person in the media blatantly opposed being called “African-American” or even “black”, and yes, again, it was an Oprah interview in which this went down as golf great Tiger Woods literally made up a word to describe his black and Asian background which was “cablinasian”. Oh bother. By means embrace all of what makes up your heritage makeup. I want you to! But we got to make up words know because we’re afraid to say “black”? Am I pulling a “New Black” in hoping when we say “black” all it merely means is that I’m not physically light-skinned?
When it comes to not wanting to be called “black” or “gay” and the like, I will end the maelstrom on this note: you are suggesting and implying that to be black or gay is something to be ashamed of. What does “black” mean to you? What is wrong with being called “gay” if you are homosexual? Do you feel the “label” or title just overly defines you too much through the eyes of others, or are you hating something that you wish you could change but you can’t? When you don’t want to be called “black” you are acting ashamed. Ashamed that your full name reflects a culture of another land. Ashamed that the one you love is the same gender as you, and yes I know living in an over heternomative world makes that hard for some. Ashamed that the food you brought to lunch has a distinct smell. Ashamed that your parents still don’t English and picked you up from school in their native garbs. Why do people of color so this? And regarding “African-American”… While the generalizing is annoying, are we ashamed of Africa, the motherland? What did African ever do to us? Let’s not forget the secret war amongst native Africans in America and black Americans brewing stateside already.
I knew when I heard of Raven’s comments, the black blogs were going to have a field day. I’m sure some of those writers didn’t even watch the entire interview and ran to their laptop to attack Symone. Raven wasn’t saying she doesn’t want to be black. She knows she is, but her views reveal a lot more of what America, and maybe even the world has achieved (unfortunately so) in letting racism and colorism ruin minor and major aspects of our own self-love. Some don’t want to be called “black, “African-American”, or “gay” because you’ve made so many people feel bad that is a part of who they are.