Raven-Symoné has lost her mind — or has she actually found it? In a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, she proudly declared that she did not want to be labeled lesbian or African American. She just wanted to be considered human. The child star who is now 28 is very clear about her identity as a human being. During the interview, Oprah warned Raven that she would set Twitter aflame by saying that she didn’t want to be labeled African American, and Oprah was right on the money.
Social media, especially black social media, is all in a huff because of Raven’s choice for herself. For centuries, African Americans have been denied the resources and privilege that their white counterparts have benefited from. In Hollywood, the talents of African Americans have been exploited, devalued and suppressed. Only in the last decade have we seen many proud African American women faces in our living rooms and on the big screen.
Even as the number of roles for African American actresses increases, many would argue that the progress is too slow and too late; African American performers are still very much under the control of the white men who run the studios. With this in mind, Raven-Symoné's statement that she doesn’t identify as African American is being treated like a slap in the face to those African American actresses who worked so hard to make her success a possibility.
This is what post-racial America will look like: a younger generation choosing what they desire without having to label themselves according to our historically racial identities.
I see Raven’s declaration as a direct result of the work of African American women who have gone before her. It is because of actresses like Cicely Tyson, Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll that Raven has the ability to choose for herself and define herself according to her own beliefs and life experiences. But why should this young woman need to carry the burdens of those who’ve knocked down the doors she walked through, or more likely was carried through, at the age of 3? Why does she need to claim a history and energy of oppression that is not her experience or way of seeing the world?
In the interview with Oprah, Raven went on to say that she connected with Caucasians, Asians, Latinos and Blacks. “I am an American, not an African American, but an American.” I applaud Raven-Symoné for having the courage to determine her identity for herself. In my view this is what post-racial America will look like: a younger generation choosing what they desire without having to label themselves according to our historically racial identities — identities that have served to not only oppress from outside forces but from inside forces as well. Raven is saying “I’m more than any label, I am human.”
One of the most indelible photographs from the Civil Rights movement is that of the men marching with signs stating “I Am A Man.” The intention of these signs was to create an experience of empathy in the white oppressors by reminding them simply that “I am a man,” just like you. I am not an animal, I am a man, I am human.
We have allowed our history and suffering to create who we are today, and without that story of slavery, racism and segregation we don’t know who we are.
Labels only work to separate us from the whole and keep us reliving the old ideas they were created to uphold. Removing the labels, like Ms. Symoné is doing for herself, diminishes the divide between the races within our hearts. Were we all to shun labels in this world, we would have no need to march for our rights or for the rights of others. Without labels, we would all stand, simply and peacefully, for our essential humanity.
In my view black people find Raven’s declaration so offensive because we often wear our pain, oppression and history as a badge of honor and suffering. We have allowed our history and suffering to create who we are today, and without that story of slavery, racism and segregation we don’t know who we are. But Raven is saying I don’t need any of that to claim my worth, my value and my humanity. I pray the younger generations of Americans will continue to be as courageous and define themselves by their character and not by the color of their skin. Yes Ms. Symone you are simply put, a human.