raven-symone

Credit: Raven-Symoné Instagram

Raven-Symoné made a few comments during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that– as the tv show host predicted– caused quite a stir in the online world. The child actress not only eschewed the label as a “gay” person, but also, without hesitation claimed that she did not identify with the term “African-American” and viewed herself as a “colorless” American:

“I’m an American. I’m not an African-American; I’m an American… I mean, I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go…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.”

Her statements were met with varied reactions. Some spoke in defense of Symoné, saying that she has the right to claim her Americanness– absent of her African ancestry– since White people are not forced to self-identify their ethnic origin. Those individuals can identify with Raven’s dream– a long-standing dream of the African-American– to be absorbed into “Americanness,” to escape the status of the minority, to escape the “African” marker of marginalization. A dream yet to be realized in the face of rampant police brutality, discrimination and institutional racism.

Others were outraged– and rightfully so.

Ms. Symoné’s attempt to erase the rainbow of color that paints the picture of American history undermines the collective struggle of minority people who have never been seen as colorless.

The hues which shade each individual darker or lighter than the other has its own, very specific, important history. A history that empowers and implicates some and oppresses and victimizes others. A history that cannot be erased despite every and any attempt.

Historically, in America, any individual “tainted” with at least 1/8th “Blackness” (like Raven-Symoné) has occupied an inferior position compared to the superior Whiter man: that idea is truly American. The concept of using skin pigment, or the absence thereof, to impose an entire system of social, cultural, political and economic hierarchy is American.

“Colorlessness”, however, is not, nor has ever been, a reality of America; a truth by which the society was/is bound.

It was not a truth when in Louisiana, the location to which Raven is admittedly connected through ancestral roots, the largest slave revolt in American history took place right outside of New Orleans and Black slaves were hunted down by White militias who decapitated them and displayed their piked heads on levees. Nor was it truth when similar levees crumbled during Hurricane Katrina, flooding thousands of homes occupied by poor, underprivileged, Black people– 1,500 of whom lost their lives– who were neglected by their own government and shot down in the streets by their own law enforcement, in what will go down in history as the worst civil engineering failure to date. It was not a truth when Louisiana’s first people– Chocotaw, Natchez, Caddo, Koasati–colored and labelled red, were massacred by greedy settlers. It was certainly not a truth when signs hung above bathroom doors and restaurant seats that read “White” and “Colored.” It is not truth as Louisiana’s historical racist and segregated school system still makes Black access to a decent education a nearly impossible feat. And still most certainly is not truth when America’s first president, a man of equal “African” and “European” heritage, is labeled, and often times degraded, because of his status as the country’s first “Black” president, despite all claims that America is a post-racial, colorblind society.

Yet, this false reality of “colorlessness” is the one that Raven-Symoné attempts to inhabit and purport with the declaration of her intention to not be labelled as she is– Black, African-American–according to American history, according to her own self-proclaimed connectedness to Louisiana’s very colored past and present. A privilege, which by the way, can only be enjoyed because of the countless African-American ancestors who paid the price of their inescapable Blackness with their lives and freedom to allow her to display such utter and sheer disregard for their sacrifice.

To Raven-Symoné and those who believe “American” to be synonymous with “colorlessness,” rest assured, there exists no people without pigment in this country. Even “White”, color-absent America is stained by a blood-red history: A colored history to which all of America is forever bound. And a present that recreates and reinforces the shackles created by that history. In that way, not a single individual can escape. Not without undoing that which constrains those around them.

Tags: , ,
Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • tae

    I left an extremely long comment on Huff Post, I ain’t going that route today.

    1. We are a deeply wounded people. Living in America is like living with an abusive parent whose house you can never leave who will never apologize for terrorizing you nor acknowledge that they terrorize you still. We are all trying to navigate that trauma the best way we know how.

    2. Labels, words that identify and describe, are symbolic, as all language is. A spoon today can be a fork tomorrow if society comes to a mutual decision to make that so. If we make the decision to swap out the word spoon for something completely ridiculous like “moonshiprocketflavor” the spoon itself, in design and function, does not change.

    3. So we don’t live in a “colorless” society and according to some we never will but someone did say once to be the change you wanted to see in the world so perhaps by exercising the authority to define herself (however she wants to) instead of accepting labels placed on her that she don’t agree with or like (matter of personal preference, doesn’t matter if you understand it or not) that’s what she’s trying to do.

    4. Boosie just did an interview and said that he feels African-Americans are the worst race in the world. Say what you want about Boosie, but he’s a mouthpiece for a significant portion of our community, his experience of blackness is just as valid as anyone else’s, and he’s not the only one that feels that way. I felt the same way myself 16 years ago, at the age of 12. The weight of blackness in this country is REAL and for my generation, gen x/y 80s babies and such which both Boosie and Raven are a part of, we’re naming that weight and dealing with it in a way that’s bound to be different than the generations preceding us. Some older folks may not get it but freeing yourself from “blackness” the social construct created specifically to justify and reinforce “whiteness” or “African-American” the label that reminds us that we are not truly Americans but bastard children from a stolen people does not mean freeing yourself from the blood of your ancestors, the massive amounts of knowledge, the histories encoded in your DNA. Our heritage resides in the blood, not words. If you look at Raven and see yourself and/or your kinfolk reflected in her that’s not going to change no matter what she calls herself. That’s what matters, it’s all that matters. Lift her up.

    I tried to keep it short. I did.

    • noirluv45

      Hello tae, I had to first comment of Boosie’s comment about AA’s being the worst race in the world. People, whom have come from kings and queens have been reduced to the “worst race in the world? No, we are the best race in the world having gone through what we have, and yet we still love our oppressor and we still stand. The worst race in the world are the ones that oppress others and who think they are superior, and THAT is not us.

      Boosie’s attitude does reflect many Blacks…those who don’t know who they are or from whence they came. It’s a tragedy to hear someone say that about our people. I will say that AA/Blacks, Negroes, colored, or whatever some of us want to be called are some of the most mentally ill of all races due to White supremacy and internalizing it. Boosie and others who believe that crap internalize the hatred thrust on them, and then leave the oppressor free from consequences. A racist and a self-loathing Black person are my enemies because they do nothing but bring our value down. The only thing different is that the racist has an infrastructure that backs him/her up.

      Your generation can name it or claim whatever you want, but if you are NOT addressing White supremacy, and you’ve been reduced to “the worst race in the world,” there is a major sickness going on, especially in the light of the barbarian White man and others around the world. We are the ones that embrace everyone even when we are not embraced.

      I suggest your generation know your history and listen and learn from those who fought to get you, me, and everyone the rights we have.

      As far as Raven is concerned, she is who she is whether she likes it or not. You can call something whatever you want, but you don’t have the right to call the earth flat when it is round. Facts are facts, and running from them aren’t going to change the way Blacks are treated in America, and unless this generation is willing the fight with blood, sweat and tears like those before us, and unless we are willing to die like those before us, then changing the name of something does NOTHING.

      The sad part is we’ve become the enemies of our own people, and don’t have the guts to call our the real enemy of the Black race. Unless that happens, you, me, and every other Black on the planet can call ourselves whatever the heck we want, and nothing will change.

    • noirluv45

      Oh, and tae, I pray to God that if your generation listens to Boosie or whatever the heck his name is, and agree with him, I have lost all hope for the future of our people because reading what he said tells me: 1) He was paid to make such absurd, ridiculous, insane comments; 2) He is highly ignorant (I’m more likely to believe this as well since he just got out of prison and allows his daughter to use words that are not appropriate); or 3) All of the above. *Bells ringing* #3 has it.

    • Tess

      Well said, Tae!

    • Tess

      @NoirLuv

      I really wish black people would stop saying we came from kings & queens…it just makes us look bad considering where we are now. Look how far we have fallen..We are the only race of people that go to these extremes to make ourselves feel better about where we came from.

  • G

    Welp, De Nile at only in Egypt! An as long as she is in America, Raven is a Black Woman . . . . now she call herself whatever she wants (much as Tiger Woods) . . . but at the end of the day, the one drop rule is the one drop rule . . . and being from Louisiana (as my family is) I know she knows better!

    And just in case she gets any more twisted . . . a great deal of the Louisiana slaves were from the islands, and those people were brought from Africa to the islands by either the French or the Portuguese! So if she is claiming Louisiana as her “roots”, she needs to get a clue!

    #canInotbBlack2day

  • @paintgurl40:
    Native Americans:
    Web: The Bureau of Indian Affairs; American Indian College Fund; Indian Affairs website.
    Web: White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education
    Web: U.S. Department of Education website.
    Web: Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado – Native American Scholarships and Tuition Waivers
    Youtube: Black Slaves, Red Masters
    Youtube: Black Indians, The Civilized Tribes & Native American Slavery.

    Australian Aborigines:
    Movie: Rabbit Proof Fence based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara, which was based on true events.
    Web: “The History of the Stolen Generations.”

    Hispanic/Latino:
    Web: Hispanic Scholarship Fund web page
    Web: More Scholarships are Being Offered to Help Hispanics Attend College
    Web: Tampa Bay Times article “Gov. Rick Scott ‘considers’ backing in-state tuition for undocumented students”

    African Americans:
    Web: Knowledge Equals Black Power
    Web: Abagond: Sandra Laing: a black girl born to white parents – Wed 13 May 2009 by abagond
    Web: Creole Folks
    Web: Frontline – Who is Black – Then One Drop Rule Defined
    Web: Miscegenation – Princeton University
    Movie: Mr. and Mrs. Loving – true story
    Web: Mildred Loving, who battled ban on mixed marriage, dies at 68
    Also see Wikepedia Loving v. Virginia
    Web: BlackStudents.com
    Web: UNCF (for United Negro College Fund)

    Asian experience:
    Web: Lou Jing, half black Chinese girl, sparks race debate in China
    Web: A Minority in the Middle Kingdom: My Experience Being Black in China
    Wikepedia: Afro-Asian

  • Keeping it real though.

    Be real, how many of you claiming she hates herself are actually from Africa or have parents from Africa? Hell, how many of you have been there, eat the food, know the music, know the countries, or speak any of the languages?

    *Waits*

    This idea that all black people in America should identify as African-American thing is really, quite insulting to people who are actually from Africa. It has so many different countries and cultures; many of which the average American doesn’t really know much about or is so far removed from yet want to attach themselves to. Let it go folks. She is Black yes, but not African. Simply of African descent from THOUSANDS of years ago.

    *Shakes head*

    Raven is simply stating what she is–an American.

  • Susan

    It seems to me that she is just tired of being thought of as being black, then gay, then as an American and probably then as Raven Simone. She probably just wants to be thought of as herself first. I didn’t see her necessarily as saying that she hated being black or didn’t connect to the black experience – she just wanted to be related to as a person without having to deal with the burden of stereotypes and having everything she says and does being thought of as a representative of black, gay, women.

    Unfortunately, this is a luxury that minorities typically don’t have because people in society tend to relate to minorities based on stereotypes. Most minorities deal with this in some fashion. For example, an Asian person could be a 3rd generation american, but guaranteed, they will get “compliments” on speaking english so clearly. A gay man is often expected to have terrific fashion sense; a black woman is expected to be a single mom, poor, and to have a bad attitude. If you do not fit the stereotype, then many people either don’t know what to do with you, or continue to treat you like a stereotype instead of as who you are. This can be very limiting and frustrating.

    She’s probably tired of it the way many of the rest of us are. Yes she is black, she is gay, she is a woman, but she is also American, and amazingly accomplished business person, an actress, a singer with at least one platinum-selling album, a friend, a daughter, a mentor, and probably a whole lot more. Yet, she is probably pigeonholed in her industry and elsewhere. Almost undoubtedly, she doesn’t get the opportunities offered to her that a young straight white male or female in her same position would have. But, despite that she has been able to build an amazing career.

    I think we should give her the benefit of the doubt and cut her some slack.