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.