Former “The Cosby Show” cast member and popular Disney Channel television series, “That’s So Raven”, star Raven Symoné made headlines over her comments on Oprah Winfrey’s “Where are They Now.” The episode sparked controversy because of Symoné’s comments regarding race and labels.
“I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African-American, I’m an American…I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person.” – Raven Symoné, “Where Are They Now”
Ironically adhering to the label of “American” while claiming “African-American” as a burdensome label she’s tired of. Illustrating, she clearly didn’t think this whole thing through. The fact of the matter is she’s only tired of labels because of the stereotypes and bigotry that comes with the labels that she particularly falls under. No one ever says “I’m tired of being labelled as wealthy” or “I’m tired of being labelled as powerful,” it’s always someone saying they’re tired of being labelled as gay or black or transgender or some kind of identifier that has historically been diminished and discriminated against. Which only furthers the discrimination and disenfranchisement. Instead of rallying against the problematic views of people and using this as a educational opportunity, they seek to abandon the label because they don’t want to be compared with “those” people.
Raven attempted to double-down and clarify her statements during an interview with TheGrio where she stated,
“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”
Here we see a more nuanced explanation of Symoné’s comments on “Where Are They Now,” however, there is still something that she is missing. While I’m glad she clarified that she didn’t mean she wasn’t a black person, which I think is a reason for a lot of the backlash, there is one thing she’s missing and one thing she has a legitimate point on.
First, she’s missing the nuance to African-American labelling. It is a source of pride for those of us descendant of a stolen people who were stripped of their culture, their language, their religion and their names. She was right when she said we don’t know where we come from, however, the label seeks to connect us with where we come from! The label seeks to show that though you tried to disenfranchise us, we’re still here and we’re still connecting with our people. Even if we don’t know where specifically we’re from, we know we’re from the motherland and we seek to connect ourselves with a culture and a people who we’ve been distanced from. That’s the point and legacy of the “African-American” label.
Now, where she had a legitimate point. Yes, it is very true that European-Americans, seemingly, do not have to use a hyphenated form like the rest of us. Which does, in a way, “other” everyone else. Americans, for a lot of people, equal white people. Everyone else has to be hyphenated; African-American, Asian-American, Latin-American, etc. Meanwhile, we’re all just as much American as the people of European descendant. In fact, I’d argue more so. The overwhelming majority of African-Americans in America are descendants of slaves. A very significant, nigh majority, minority of European-Americans are descendants of the immigrants that migrated to America during the Industrial Revolution which started in the mid-late 1800s.
Overall, we’re all Americans. Yes. But we all must also find solace and community and power in the labels that describe us. Don’t fight against your label, fight for it. Better the opportunity of your people, better the views about your people, better the perspective and admonish the stereotypes. That’s what you do Raven. That’s what we do.
If you haven’t seen it, check out the video on the OWN Youtube channel here.