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The Danger In Raven Symone’s Comments About Race And Labels

By Danielle Moodie-Mills, previously published in cosmopolitan.com

During an interview with Oprah for Oprah’s Where Are They Now? series, former Cosby kid Raven-Symone, whose hair is now the color of the rainbow, declared that she is a “colorless person.” Yes, you just read that correctly.

In her interview, Symone told Oprah that she rejects the notion of labels and insisted, “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African-American. I’m an American.” Oprah’s expression at this point during their exchange was priceless. The talk show veteran quipped, “Don’t set up the Twitter on fire … Oh my lord, what did you just say?”

As Oprah shifted in her chair, I nearly fell off my damn couch. As an out and proud black lesbian, the actress’s comments denying not only her race, but also her sexual orientation, quite frankly pissed me off. Why? Because this politically incorrect color blindness is dangerous.

If there is anything that the past several months of unarmed black deaths — at the hands of white assailants — has taught us is that we are far from post-racial, and that denying our innate prejudices, rather than dealing with them, can be deadly. So it’s no wonder Black Twitter commenced in an epic war of outrage and wit over Raven-Symone’s post-racial idealistic declaration.

While I respect people’s desire to define themselves for themselves and not to check boxes, the very presumption of colorlessness rests in privilege.

Let’s be clear, only the 1 percent, of which Raven-Symone is a member, is afforded the luxury of detaching themselves from race and the daily lived experiences of the average black person and/or person of color. In their world, the color of money opens up doors for them, not because of their blackness, but in spite of it.

Yet too many of these fortunate few subscribe to a respectability politics that ignores the centuries-old systems of racism that continue to stifle the success of countless black people. These are the same good folk that promote the idea that black people can get ahead if they just worked harder and “put their backs into it.”

Really? Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, was shot and killed as he walked within the confines of the gated community where his family lived — gates that are designed to protect the well heeled from an unwanted “element.” Yet his family’s middle-class status and ability to take him on snowboarding trips didn’t quash the imagined threat his murderer saw at the very sight of Martin’s blackness.

Money — no matter how much — doesn’t trump race or racism.

My problem with this “new black” train of thought, as Pharrell Williams championed in a similarly post-racial interview with Oprah, is that it suggests that excluding any talk of race or connection to a racialized identity somehow nullifies oppression. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It also assumes that the embrace of a racial or ethnic identity is inherently negative, and that acknowledging our differences somehow narrows our connections to, and understanding of, one another. In short, the “new black” mentality assumes that assimilation is what we should all aspire to. I completely disagree.

For me, blackness isn’t an elective class like drama in high school, nor is it fluid like sexuality. It’s a beautiful tapestry of poetry, art, music, and power that I am fortunate to adorn each day. Black skin, in all its hues, tells a brilliant story, and I’m unsure why anyone would want to deny that.

Our colorfulness and expressions of our myriad experiences make America, and the world for that matter, an exciting place in which to exist. In a country where we still need to create campaigns reminding LGBT teens that “it gets better,” and where we continue to march in the streets to declare that “black lives matter,” opting out of this social experiment we call life by pretending that our markers of difference are meaningless is just ridiculous.

It’s also irresponsible. I wish that more celebrity role models who embody all the beautiful “otherness” that young people grapple with today would use their enormous platforms to celebrate diversity rather than ignore it.

For the record, the absence of identity isn’t freedom; it’s self-righteous BS cloaked in pretentiousness.


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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12 comments

  1. Yes, it’s quite easy for people, once made or finely positioned, to forget or detach themselves from the real problems of the world. They can’t detach themselves from stuffs like cancer though….cos that sure can break boundaries, give to the pauper and to the affluent.

  2. I get this article and I get all the backlash, but people need to ease up. It was an interview, everything is spur-of-the-moment, snap-snap, and to respond to something like that with a well thought-out, well-written piece, and expect that they be treated as coming from the same level of deliberation is also, to my mind, “B.S cloaked in pretentiousness.”
    The whole celebrity-culture of this era is plain sad. It’s terrible that people still feel that in this era of blogs and twitter and all of that, that they need celebrities to be their mouth-pieces. Personally, I think being a black American is something one is, not something one wears like a shirt, as the Cosmo writer suggests; and I don’t subscribe to blackness being determined by exposure to racial discrimination, and worse, even the possibility of death on that ground; that being black is synoymous with being a victim. But for argument’s sake, let’s just say this writer and all the other faceless social-media trolls are correct, Raven because of who is —”privileged” as the writer puts it —is out of that strata, so wouldn’t it be even more pretentious to act otherwise?
    We can only speak from our own experiences. And besides I don’t think she was rejecting being black. I think being a black American and being an African American are two subtly, but pointedly different concepts. Being African American suggests a connection to the Motherland, and that doesn’t exist in vacuum. I know people born in other parts of the world, relations born in the U.S who don’t identify with being African, so what’s all the fuss?
    Pesonally, I think she was misunderstood and her words taken out of context, which is understandable considering the recent happenings in the U.S, but people just gotta stop having their panties in a wad, and chillax!

  3. I also hate labels and sterotypes, and I think every reasonable human being should reject them. Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin didn’t die because they were black, they died because they were labelled, because they were perceived as criminals owing to a black-male sterotype.
    Stereotypes and labels are dangerous and deadly.

    • Thank you very much Dozie…you said it better than I could have put it

    • shakespeareanwalter

      Dozie, here’s what my friend Sifa had to say:

      ‘I really don’t understand this whole brouhaha of ‘labels’ and ish. What is it, na? Try and run an organization without clear ‘labelling’. Even families have labels: mother, father, sister, brother, etc. There are clear racial divisions and it is obvious. I identify as mixed-race. Nothing changes for me either way. And if she is talking about her sexuality…abeg I no dey there. Too much headache. But yeah, Raven Symone- you are either black or mixed race. No cute interview will change that.’

      How does that tie in with your position?

  4. And the confusion is just beginning! In a world where we can agree that sexuality should be ‘fluid’, morphing into whatever form so catches the fancy of a poorly informed mind, why suddenly change your mind that race can also be fluid?
    Do you see the deeper problem here? If we are willing to allow something as defined as ‘being a man’ to be easily changed to ‘become a woman’ and vice versa (gender change), what’s to stop Raven from changing from black to colourless?
    My pain in this our world is that we are yet to admit to the real problem. Until we realise that we did not create ourselves and as such have no right to change what makes us up, we will continue on this journey to self destruction until there is nothing left of us. Selah.

  5. This is rubbish. Maybe its nice and comforting to the self-esteem of the black man to think that there is something special about the black skin. But really its one thing to be proud of who you are and its another seize every opportunity to cry about how side-lined you have been and just rub everything black in people’s faces. I love this woman’s position. Its about time we stopping fighting each other about what color of skin is special and what color isn’t. She elevated her perspective to one that’s above color. She should be applauded not rebuked. We are all special because we are human and “it doesn’t matter if you are black or white”

  6. I’m black and I’m proud!
    Free Mandela!!!!!!!!

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