Raven-Symoné & Race: Can Black People Afford To See Themselves As Colorless Americans?

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When it comes to America, the issue of race is always ever present. But blackness and the experience of being black have been a topic at the forefront of our nation for the past several months thanks to high-profile police attacks, the much talked about New Black ideology and commentary about blackness from artists like Pharrell and Childish Gambino.

This weekend, Raven-Symone found herself at the center of that conversation when she appeared on OWN's "Where Are They Now?" and spoke with Oprah about her sexuality and her race. Though many fans likely were unsure of what the typically tight-lipped star would say about her identity, she shocked many black and LGBT people when she told Oprah that she doesn't want to be labeled as "African-American" or "Gay."

Raven: In that topic of dating and love, I knew when I was like 12. I was looking at everything. I don’t need language, I don’t need a categorizing statement for it. I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay.’ I want to be labeled a human who loves human.

I’m tired of being labelled. I’m an American! I’m not an African-American. I’m an American.

OprahOh Lord, girl! Don’t set this Twitter on fire. What did you just say? Stop, stop stop the tape right now!

Raven: I will say this: I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go. I can’t go on…you know… I don’t know how far back and I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from. But I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American. And that’s a colorless person — because we are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins.

OprahYou know you’re gonna get a lot of flack for saying you’re not African-American. You know that, right? So I want you to say what you really mean by that.

RavenI don’t label myself. What I mean by that is I’m an American. I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian, I connect with Asian, I connect with Black, I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture.

OprahYou are a melting pot in one body.

RavenAren’t we all? Isn’t that what America is supposed to be? That’s what it’s supposed to be. I personally feel that way.

Hearing Raven say that personally came as a shock to me and when I wound up discussing the video with a couple of my friends, I found myself in a pecular place, trying to both defend and define blackness while trying to find a connection with Raven's words.

On one hand, I can understand why Raven, as well as many other black and gay and bisexual people, would want to do away with labels.

Labels are difficult to live with when you're not a part of the favored majority and your particular labels come with negative connotations or bring about invasive and insensitive questions from those outside of your community.

Who wants to have to live with a label that's not respected by their peers? And I imagine that's quite difficult when you're rich, black and famous and most of your peers in entertainment are rich and white, and yet you, despite having climbed the financial ladder, are still subject to the same issues, harassment, and questions that every other black person is subject to. I imagine it's even harder when your peers don't even understand your struggles or culture as a black person.

However, simply choosing to cast those labels out of your personal life doesn't solve the root of the problem associated with those labels, which in this instance is racism and homophobia.

Too often people of darker skin tones are stereotyped and vilified in the eyes of the world, and they're oppressed, attacked and violated for it. Even worse, the racism in America has become so refined that it doesn't even have to be expressed through violence to exist. These days, racism lives mainly through the disparity of treatment and opportunites between darker skinned and lighter skinned people.

As it stands, blackness in America comes with the reality that we never come to the table with a blank slate. Our label, our slate, always comes with negative comments, thoughts and connotations. 

In all honesty, I wish that we as black people could just wipe our slate clean and be seen and treated as equals by the rest of the world. And though getting rid of the label of African-American may bring about changes when it comes to our own selves, it doesn't necessarily change the way the rest of the world, mainly white people, see us.

So what good does it do to throw away titles like African-American and Gay when the treatment of these two communities will still be the same?

What good does it do to promote the idea that America is colorless when the reality is that America is full of people of color with rich histories, lives and cultures that far too often are mocked, appropriated or made invisible?

And what good does it do to be a black public figure that is discarding the label of African-American when so many black people in the lower classes don't have the same social and economic privilege to do such an act. 

Perhaps I’m being too narrow minded and perhaps I’m just stuck to the old ways of thinking within the black community. 

But in my eyes, the harsh and inescapable truth is that It does no good for black people to throw away the title of African-American for the sake of being just a "colorless American" when the people who run America, which is white people, remind us every day that we are black. And that that blackness, as we've seen in the latest police attacks and cover ups, is something that is seen by too many white people as something less than human.


Nicholas Harbor

Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK




Posted on October 8, 2014 and filed under community, Identity, race, skin tone.