Raven-Symoné Isn’t ‘African-American’ But She’s ‘Black’ And Incredibly Problematic

raven-symone-oprah-interviewRemember when Raven-Symoné played a sassy four year old on The Cosby Show in the eighties and nineties? Remember how the show was about an African-American, upper class family navigating family life? Remember how everyone in the family was African American? Remember how the racial background of the family was central to the concept of the show? Well, now Raven-Symoné has decided that being “colorless” is a more viable option for her. That’s so problematic.

On Sunday’s OWN Where are They Now?, Raven-Symoné had a candid interview with Oprah Winfrey about her sexual and racial identities. After sending out the tweet below, Winfrey asked the young actress if this was her way of saying that she is gay. She denied the label but noted that she has had affections for all sexes since adolescence. Raven-Symone-tweet

“I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay.’ I want to be labeled ‘a human who loves humans.’ I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African American. “

Winfrey recoiled when the starlet said this – knowing it would set off a media frenzy (which it did). Winfrey gave Symoné some time to clarify.

“I’m an American and that’s a colorless person cause we are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins.”

She went on.

“What I really mean by that is I’m an American. That’s what I really mean. 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.”

Symoné later exclusively spoke with theGrio.com and said the following:

“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.”

This is just…just…wrong. Denying ties to the continent of Africa because one is unaware of their country of origin is like denying humanity because one isn’t sure exactly where the first atom exploded. We have enough data and history to know that black Americans didn’t originate in Louisiana. A secondary impact of Symoné’s words is a denial of the significance of the slave trade, self-exclusion from the African Diaspora, and the erasure of Africana heritage in the Americas.

In her attempt to be colorblind or “colorless” – as she put it – Symoné doesn’t shirk unnecessary titles. Instead, she simply ignores the very real, very dangerous conditions associated with those modes of identification and uses her personal agency (as a star and elite) to simply avoid the hassle of having to be ‘African-American.’ Opting out of racial identity when it is convenient is very easy for folks whose daily lives aren’t marred with oppressive corporate structures, isolating public spaces, and ostracizing interpersonal interactions.

The truth is, Symoné is a lesbian (or queer or however she identifies her sexuality in her personal social groups). She is black and African-American. By choosing the label “American” over any of these marginalized ones, she is asserting privilege. And, as an elite whose reach is far wider than many others within her marginalized communities, she is abandoning those groups who face daily struggles when these labels are thrust upon us.

What you see here is the Veil of Respectability. Symoné is simply asking to be human by pretending as if those other labels dehumanize her. Instead of petitioning white mainstream actors who perpetuate violence and hatred toward racial, sexual, and gender minorities, she is simply turning her back on the work which must still be done to make these labels less of a burden for those they are thrust upon.

The real solution for victims of racial, gender, sexual, and other bigoted violence isn’t to simply stop being. We have to keep being in a very public way. We have to destigmatize our existence making a declarative statement about its inherent value. We have to assert the worth in our labels just as white mainstream asserts the worth in its own. We have to stop pretending our “-ness” away. We don’t achieve humanity that way. It will only happen when our humanity is not seen as something wholly different from black or Latino or gay or lesbian or queer or trans or disabled or obese or whatever. We are human. And we shouldn’t have to be “American” first to prove that.


Watch the full interview below:

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

1 Response

  1. Joe says:

    I had a few conversations about this today on campus, and it was challenging at times when speaking to some extremely colorblind students.. Well said, as always!