Last weekend, Raven-Symoné told Oprah in an interview for Where Are They Now? that she doesn’t want to be labeled “gay” or “African-American” and even called herself a “colorless” person. After a firestorm of criticism sparked on the internetz over her comments, Raven gave a statement to theGrio stating she’s still black:
“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.”
Yeah, girl we do need to discuss race and stating that you’re a “colorless” person is not how you start a productive conversation about race in the US.
The Oprah interview began with a discussion of Raven’s coming out in August 2013, when she tweeted she could finally get married after the Supreme Court ruled the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Oprah asked if this was her way of coming out. She replied,”That was my way of saying I’m proud of the country,” she says. “But, I will say that I’m in an amazing, happy relationship with my partner. A woman.”
In the past, Raven never confirmed or denied her sexuality even when rumors surfaced that she was in a relationship with AzMarie from America’s Next Top Model in 2012. So it was refreshing to hear her actually say she was in a relationship with a woman after skirting around on the topic for so long. This was probably the only good thing that came out of this Oprah interview.
At one point after Raven says she didn’t need a language to label herself, Oprah asks, “So you don’t want to be labeled ‘gay’?” She replies, “I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay,’ I want to be labeled ‘a human who loves humans.”
Alright, Raven. That’s cool, maybe “gay” isn’t the right word for you. You’re free to identify however you want, only you can claim your identity. At the same time though, the reality is that a woman in a relationship with another woman — especially black women — are not seen as just “a human who loves humans.” Queer women of color in this world are still oppressed and are not treated as “humans.” If we’re all just humans, then why is it that 41% of queer Black and Latina women experience street harassment or that queer women of color are more likely to be poor and face more workplace discrimination? Sure, we would all love to be viewed as just humans in this world but racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia — all very real struggles for queer women of color — prevents us from being viewed as just humans. If we were all just humans, we would all be on an equal playing field. Imagine a world where you couldn’t be differentiated from a white, straight cis guy; you and this guy were presented the same opportunities and you had the same choices and opportunities for the same life experiences. We all know that’s not how our world works so I have no idea what f*cking planet Raven thinks we’re living on.
What was even more infuriating was when Raven says she’s tired of being labeled and says she’s an “American,” not an “African-American.” To which my own response was like Oprah’s —”Oh, girl.” Raven continued to make everything worse when she said she doesn’t know where her African roots go but she knows she’s from Louisiana, making her an American and in turn a “colorless” person. I really don’t want to dislike Raven because she’s hilarious on That’s So Raven and omg her hair and makeup are so on point in this interview but I can’t take anyone seriously if they say they are a “colorless” person.
As a former child star who’s successfully been in the TV/entertainment industry for the majority of her life, Raven is incredibly privileged. Working on shows like The Cosby Show and That’s So Raven, which showcased upper-middle class black families, probably shaped Raven’s narrow view of black experiences in the US when she was growing up. When Raven says she’s “colorless,” she’s saying she lives in a world where she doesn’t have to face the reality of her blackness every day. She’s saying she doesn’t have to deal with (or has been able to successfully ignore) daily microaggressions, has never felt disenfranchised by her government or has ever suffered from violence due to systematic oppression.
Raven still believes that the US is a “melting pot,” where a multitude of races and cultures assimilate into a whole. That’s all a myth; it doesn’t exist. Yes, Raven or anyone can connect with all kinds of ethnicities and cultures but it doesn’t erase the fact that there is a very real racial oppression in the US. It doesn’t erase the face that black people are being killed on the streets because they are black.
It would be so nice if a star like Raven-Symoné was a visible queer black woman — someone who is proud to identify as queer and black — in the media. God, do we need more queer women of color in the public eye because being visible is one way we can fight oppression and reclaim our existence. From the time she was a young child playing Olivia on The Cosby Show, Raven played an important role in providing visibility to black girls on TV and continued to do so in her career. Whether she realizes it or not, she helped pave the way for other girls of color to appear on kids’ and family shows. Since she’s so blinded by her privilege, she doesn’t realize she could do even more good by repping queer women of color in the media. She doesn’t know how revolutionary it is for a black woman to love another black woman and be a visible, positive force for the public to see — for other queer women of color to see that yes, it’s ok for you to exist.
Instead she is fueling and affirming the views of ignorant white people who really believe that Americans are “colorless,” that we live in a post-racial society. It’s especially harmful and dangerous for ignorant white people to hear a black woman saying she’s “colorless” and that race ain’t a thing, because they are the ones in power and can ignore the racism found in our society instead of being allies. Raven has inadvertently empowered many folks who are part of the problem. That’s definitely not so Raven.