Raven Doesn’t Want to be Labeled “Gay” or “African-American;” Most of Us Don’t Get the Choice

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.

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Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and former Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her queer Latina heart. Yvonne was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter. Read more of her work at yvonnesmarquez.com.

Yvonne has written 206 articles for us.

67 Comments

  1. :/
    If she doesn’t want to be labeled gay, that’s her business. If she doesn’t identify as African American, that’s her business.

    Calling her “blinded by her privilege” for not identifying how you would like her to is pretty ridiculous.

    • Sure! She can choose to identify however she wants.

      But it’s also totally legit to be critical of someone with that kind of platform to be dismissive of race while simultaneously employing incredibly racialized language in regards to her own complexion and hair texture.

  2. I don’t call myself African American either, neither does my family. Period. I am Panamanian and West Indian. This is the culture I grew up with. I am still black. If I said I was colourless then I would be seriously delusional. Raven probably missed that entire story about the 2 white lesbians and their mixed daughter.
    And not wanting to be labeled gay? Then why the fuck do you even bother doing a damn interview?
    Raven is living in that Kumbaya bullshit world. But surprise it doesn’t exist…still. Even within our own queer “community.”

    Plus why even look at her as the one and only “role model” for shit’s sake? I stopped following “celebrities” and focused on queer women of colour like Audre Lourde for shit’s sake.

    • I will leave the issue of Raven’s racial identity to people more qualified to discuss it, but as for whether she should identify as gay, it sounds like that isn’t the right word for her, given that she states in the interview that she isn’t exclusively attracted to women. “Gay” is not an accurate descriptor for all queer women and she shouldn’t be pressured to adopt that lable.

  3. I think Raven is still looking (too far) into the future to an America that is freer from racism, homophobia and patriarchy than it is now. In a perfect world, like you said, it would be great if we could be label-less and just accept each other as we are.
    If Raven could change her “label-less” label “colourless human who loves humans” to something like “queer black American” or something along those lines… It would really be great to see more black americans (african-americans) who are queer/LGBT to be proud of their labels (or “who and what they are”) so that there are more LGBT POC for people to look up to.

  4. Small but hopefully relevant tangent: It is unfair that only non-white people are meant to hyphenate. Historically, white people have stolen unfair claims to this continent (etc.) and are therefore considered the “real/neutral” Americans/Canadians.
    As a whitey canuck-born person I try to use hyphenated identifying language like “European Canadian” when talking about myself or others. My hope is that this will slightly undermine the notion that whites have unquestioned entitlement to this place.
    Thoughts?

    • I’ve often though it would be better if more application use the phrase Euro-American or something similar instead of just white. Some times I’ve deliberately filled out the “rather not say” option when it’s available, just to downplay my background in terms of relevance.

      Of course those who seem convinced that goal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was to create a “colorblind society” (don’t laugh; an editorial in my home newspaper argued this the other day) would prefer to due away with all hyphens. They’d like to believe we’d all get along better if we just identify as “Americans.” This is delusional in my mind for several reasons, not the least of which being that many people who are citizens of Latin nations also call themselves Americans.

    • Small but I hope relevant to this…when someone asks me what nationality I am I have similar answers. I am white and everyone wants to know..am I Irish or German ..or whatever. I say I’m Pennsylvanian. I’ve never been to these countries and I don’t identity. They always laugh but in my head I think it’s an outdated question. I know it doesn’t parallel but that one aspect may give another perspective.

  5. I was totally following Raven’s logic until the word “colorless” (or colourless as we’d say up here in Canada.)

    As a queer mixed race person, I can relate to how these labels don’t often tell the whole story of someone’s actual lived experience.

    I am almost the same age as Raven. And growing up, she was pretty much the only human on TV that looked like me. Even as a small child, seeing her on the Cosby Show helped me to understand why I looked different than all my classmates.

    Knowing that despite that representation and the influence she probably had on other little girls who’ve grown up watching her, she’s decided to dismiss her POC-ness in the way she did was very disappointing.

  6. Wow, the language she uses in the interview was so surprising to me! It just sounds so much like what ignorant white/straight/cis folks say. But I guess as Yvonne pointed out, Raven’s words come from a place of privilege, not so different as when you hear white masculine presenting gay guys say it’s easy to come out and there’s no homophobia anymore, blah blah blah.

  7. Actually I completely get not wanting to be called African American and just wanting to be called American, doesn’t mean she’s not a black American. I find it quite frustrating and sometimes hilarious how Americans seem to have to say they’re ____american, Italian American, African American, Dutch American. In Canada we just say Canadian. Because Canadian doesn’t mean any one race. neither does American. I don’t think saying don’t label me as African American means “don’t say I’m a black American”, just my 2 cents.

    • I’m confused as to why people are claiming that ALL white Canadians don’t identify with a hyphen, because I know many white children of immigrants who still include something in front of Canadian. Like me. If someone within Canada asks “What are you?”, I say I’m Ukrainian because that identity separates me from other white Canadians. I’ve actually been more familiar with the OPPOSITE, where any American (regardless of ethnic background) will be adamant about identifying only as American, whereas I know the ethnic backgrounds of most of my Canadian friends.

  8. I kinda wish she had clarified things in the interview that she had said. It’s like she was reeeeaaally close to having an intelligent provocative conversation but got blocked by privileged patriarchal bullshit mid sentence. I could get with not identifying as an “African” American but there is no denying being a person of color. You can’t erase poc’s experiences just by claiming to live in a colorless world. That’s not the way it works, honey.

    Maybe “gay” isn’t her word, maybe it doesn’t float her boat, but for heavens sake at least have the conversation! There are a multitude of other words to describe how to identify. Claiming no labels helps no one, it just makes her look pretentious, privileged, and more importantly disconnected.
    Yeah, I’m just super disappointed in her. She had an opportunity to have a groundbreaking conversation on a huge platform and she chose to denounce everything that connected me to her in the first place. Rude.

    • “Maybe gay isn’t her word, but for heaven’s sake at least have the conversation!”

      Yes! This is how I felt too. It’s one thing to be labelless in the context of discussing and affirming queer identities, but it’s another to distance yourself from the LGBT community and negative perceptions of it while simultaneously benefiting from that community’s activism.

    • Tbh, this isn’t even a conversation I’m even slightly interested in having with white people who don’t understand internalised racism. I’m not even African American, I’m black from the UK and I was really hurt by her comments. I could see what she was getting at until she got to colourless and then I was like ‘NOPE’. Black celebs always want to be black on the way up and once they’re there, drop the people who loved them and supported them

  9. Well, maybe I’m blinded by my Disabled-and-in-Community-Housing-Because-I`m-Poor privilege, but I actually completely understand what she`s saying.

    I suppose I could be Guyanese-Canadian… I also have no roots that I can trace back to Africa that I`m aware of. Therefore, I suppose Canadian is an apt way to describe what I am. I could be South American-Canadian, I guess??? If someone is not, in fact, African-Canadian/American, it doesn’t seem accurate to describe them as such… is a person not free to decide?

    In my experience, the queer community is huge on ‘don’t label me or put me in a box’ logic. Why does it only apply to one’s sexual orientation? We have the blanket term “queer” to describe someone who chooses not to label themselves LGBorT etc…. I suppose she’s attempting to use the equivalent for race.

    She never said she wasn’t black… she said that a Louisianan, in general, was a colourless person. She said that she is a proud American.. who can’t trace her roots back to Africa… so she would like to be just American. I don’t really see the problem.

    I think people have gone WAY too far with putting the entire weight of the complex struggles of a community on her shoulders and shouting “privilege” at every turn when she says something that not everyone agrees with or that isn’t 100% PC…

    I’m with the first commenter:
    “:/ If she doesn’t want to be labeled gay, that’s her business. If she doesn’t identify as African American, that’s her business.

    Calling her “blinded by her privilege” for not identifying how you would like her to is pretty ridiculous.”

  10. How someone chooses to identify is their business. End of story.
    She isn’t ignorant of the oppression faced by people who aren’t straight, by people of color, by women- she has the lived experience of being all of those things, and no one needs to tell her that she’s doing it wrong or that she can’t put her own experiences into words however she damn well pleases. Everyone has some kind of privilege, and that obligates them to listen to people who don’t have that privilege but it doesn’t erase their identity. And then the constant scrutiny and criticism leveled at well-known and successful black women and LGBT people is a whole ball game of its own. Honestly, I think it’s a huge victory to have more public figures who refuse to be put in neat little boxes; it’s a lot closer to most of our reality. She’s been fighting against being put in a box based on who she loves for a while now, and I think that it was brave of her while being questioned about it to bring in how her racial identity intersects with that. She’s spent her whole life with a million people telling her who she’s supposed to be, and if she wants to say “screw that” and do things on her own terms I am behind her 100%.

  11. I think my opinion on Raven’s identity is fairly irrelevant as a white person, but I find the whole conversation to be an issue because she contradicts herself. It’s odd that she’s emphatic about being called an American and colourless, but says that she doesn’t want any labels. Umm, girl? “American” is a label because you’re claiming an identity based on national boundaries. I can respect her rejection of African-American because of the disconnect of her experiences from African, but claiming to be colourless just makes her seem ignorant. And also her rejection of any label for her sexuality just seems naive for reasons that Yvonne and others have mentioned.

  12. Also, why is it that “label-free” is an option on this very website (still personally frustrated about the lack of a write-in option, by the way) but when a young black woman who has worked her ass off since she was a little kid and been incredibly successful on her own terms says it’s the one she prefers, we call her “girl” and treat her like she’s a kid who doesn’t know what she’s talking about?

  13. I think people have taken her words completely out of context.

    My interpretation is that she’s saying “American” simply means born and raised in the US (putting aside immigrant Americans for a moment because they have just as much right to be called American, too). The identifier “American” isn’t indicative of one color or another – “American” is “colorless” because Americans are all different colors. There isn’t a standard color American. She identifies as black, thus NOT denouncing that she is a POC, but why should she or anyone label her as African-American when she is just an American? She didn’t come here from an African country. I think she is simply denouncing what has, in the US, become a blanket term for all black people.

    Every now and then, some Americans mistakenly label a black person from England or Trinidad as African-American. It happens in the US even if the person is a tourist visiting from abroad. It happens if the American is the tourist in a foreign country! And what about a black person born in the US from Haitian parents?

    What she said made perfect sense to me. She’s American and she’s black. As for not wanting to be labeled gay, there’s no reason that should cause an uproar in the LGBTQP(etcetc) community.

    And damn, her hair and makeup are on point.

  14. First off, to the white people commenting on the ‘colorless’ comment, just nope. Your opinion on that matter is actually irrelevant. If race doesn’t matter then why was Olivia Pope the first African-American female lead on television in over 30 years? Why is Ferguson in an uproar? Why do Black women on average experience more street harassment?

    In this country, good ole USA, the “default” American is white. Plain and simple. We are not going to nor should we aspire to that conceptualization of “American”. I take issue with anyone acting like I need to ignore important part of my identity and history in order to be viewed as equal.

    Raven says she is rejecting the labels of African-American and gay. Fine, that’s her prerogative but let’s not pretend that she is in any way radical. If she was really not about labels, why isn’t she rejecting the labels of American, cis, able-bodied, and upper class? She accepts the labels that give her advantages in society. That’s not radical or progressive. It lets you opt out of the struggle when you can say ‘Well, I’m not with them. Their problems aren’t my problem.’ So identify however you want to identify but don’t be so smug and act like you’re doing something great for your community.

    Also, that ‘interesting grade of hair’ nonsense. If that’s not some internalized anti-blackness coming through then I don’t know what is.

    • “If she was really not about labels, why isn’t she rejecting the labels of American, cis, able-bodied, and upper class? She accepts the labels that give her advantages in society. That’s not radical or progressive. It lets you opt out of the struggle when you can say ‘Well, I’m not with them. Their problems aren’t my problem.’”

      Oh man, there it is – you nailed it.

    • THANK YOU. That’s why I’m not even slightly interested in talking to white people who are ALL about individual labels and self-defining who you are which is all great in theory and I’d love to live in that world in in reality, people see you and treat you in certain ways according to who you are. Especially when you’re a black woman who isn’t straight. Thinking you can escape the label of African American (or black) does not mean the world sees you as anything else. It’s funny how she was seemingly okay with *that* label when she was getting money from That’s So Raven. I don’t have a label for my sexuality but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to erase it in some airy-fairy ‘we’re all humans’ stuff.

      I’m not even from the USA, I’m from the UK so I dont want to talk too much about the African American stuff but her ‘Americans are colourless’ comment made me want to sit her down with a history book. I honestly couldn’t BELIEVE the interesting grade of hair comment. That never leads anywhere good. At first I could see where she was coming from- I wanna live in a world where I can just be *ME* first and black, queer, a woman etc etc afterwards- but we don’t live there. Normally, I’m sympathetic towards people working through internalised stuff but surely she could have been self aware enough to not air it out for the whole world to see? Or phrase it differently, even? It actually really hurts me because she was inspirational for me when I was growing up and I was so happy and proud when she (kinda) came out and she didn’t have to be an activist or give any speeches but the fact she was out there somewhere made me feel better and now I’m just like… oh, okay. I should know better than to have expectations about celebrities, especially black celebrities but there you go.

    • “First off, to the white people commenting on the ‘colorless’ comment, just nope. Your opinion on that matter is actually irrelevant.”

      THANK YOU. I have a whole lot to say about that but I’ll just keep that to myself lest I get myself in trouble around here. Again. Some people think they have a right to comment on all things POC-related and thus try to drown out our own voices in the process and to that I say nope as well.

    • From what I’ve read she hasn’t made a particular stand on the points about being cis, able-bodied or upper class. I also haven’t seen any mention of her attempting to be radical or progressive.

      There are any number of reasons she might choose not choose to identify as gay that have nothing to do with her rejecting the struggles of queer women. Openly dating a woman already takes away a lot of the straight privilege she’s supposedly clinging onto by refusing to label herself that way.

      She says she’s not African American; totally understandable since she’s not really connected to her African heritage. Saying she’s “colorless” is also not the same as saying race doesn’t matter. I don’t particularly identify with any particular race (the only thing I feel strongly is that I’m not white) but that doesn’t mean I don’t think race is very important in the US, and in other places too.

      She can’t opt out of the struggle. Although her privilege puts those struggles in a completely different context she’s definitely still facing them. I think the amount of controversy surrounding her statements shows that. If she’d said “no labels” as a white woman she wouldn’t be facing all this hate, because people don’t police straight white women’s identities the same way. It’s annoying that people don’t see the irony in calling her out for not claiming an identity, and then using that identity to knock her down.

      • “she hasn’t made a particular stand on the points about being cis, able-bodied or upper class.”

        That’s the whole point – as positions of privilege, she doesn’t need to mention them because our society ascribes those as “default” from which everyone else must self-identify in deviation. The fact that Raven is rejecting the labels of positions of oppression (i.e. her sexuality and race) falls into the idea that she doesn’t want to identify with disenfranchised groups.

      • I agree with you, @sicsity. I find it above and beyond hypocritical that people are saying that as a black woman, that Raven doesn’t have a choice in how she identifies…or imply that somehow she should be forced to take on identities that a profoundly flawed society forces on people…I’m even more disgusted that marginalized people, whose history involves having their personal choices taken from them by force, would now turn around and perpetuate the same behavior as their oppressors.

        Regardless of Raven’s beliefs or intentions, I applaud her for not letting others determine how she defines herself.

  15. She is allowed to define herself. People’s own idea of themselves needs to be respected. How do you even know she is gay? She is dating a woman, but gay is not her only option, and maybe she does not want to put a label on it yet. There is baggage that comes wijth both ‘gay’ and ‘bi’ and maybe she is young and wants to avoid saying anything until she knows. I say “I like girls” as my label all the time to avoid ill fitting labels. I AM STILL OUT. Just like her. So where is the privilege? ‘African American’ has been a contested label for a long time. Not feeling like it fits her does not mean somehow race does not exist and she has no idea that discrimination is real. She identifies as black – as a black American. She just says she does not feel connected to Africa, the country, and only feels connected to the USA as a country, as a black woman. What is wrong with that? Where is the privilege? Hating labels does not somehow mean she has no idea that women who date women are discriminated against. What luxury does she have to not be labelled? Do you think she isn’t ever going to face racism in her life, or know one will ever know she’s black now?

  16. I remember how significant it felt, when I was first coming out, to see Rachel Maddow and Ellen on my TV, being gay women on national television and not apologizing for it (and being entertaining and informative and respected). So I wish that more celebrities felt comfortable identifying openly as LGBT; it eases the journeys of younger queers.

    • The backlash against Raven Symone is above and beyond ridic, IMO.

      I see no problem with what she said. I think that identity is very personal and complex, and as long as it’s not affecting us and ours, I don’t see how this is any of anyone else’s business.

      I also find it a little problematic in how people automatically assume that not identify as AA = ashamed of being black. I identify with being American (as opposed to AA) because my family history in this country goes far back (at least 150 years), and I am pretty sure my ancestors have been here just as long, if not longer than the English disease carriers of the Mayflower. Being American is all I know, just as much as being a New Yorker is all I know.

      My identity as an American does not negate my identity as a black woman, or the experiences that came with that. I don’t see my West Indian friends identifying as Afro-Jamaican, or Afro-Haitian. They are just Jamaican or Haitian period. Why is it a problem with black Americans take the same route?

        • I don’t know why I can’t reply to your later comment, so I’ll reply here. Raven might have her n**** wake up moment later or maybe she is so insulated it will never happen. Maybe she’s already had it. She might get a different racial consciousness later in life but in the meantime while those sentiments spread on the Huffington post, upworthy, and other outlets I’m still going to call them out as problematic. She’s not personally being dragged (well, not in all circles), but her views are fair game for being dissected.

      • “Affecting us and ours” is exactly why Raven’s stance is problematic. The idea that race and racial identity doesn’t matter and that specifically in America we all have equality opportunity is dangerous and naive. Have you seen the mainstream white reaction to this interview? I’ll spare you the worse of it but it’s basically like ‘go, Raven’ ‘Finally a Black person who gets it’ ‘yeah, we’re all human’ ‘I don’t see color’ and the most devastating ‘why can’t other Black people be like this’ and that’s where I get to ball B.S. on all of this. Her idea of “colorless” as a widespread racial philosophy is dangerous to not just Black people but all POC.

        Not when this is still happening in our country.

        http://www.thenation.com/blog/178958/14-disturbing-stats-about-racial-inequality-american-public-schools

        http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/schuette-v-coalition-to-defend-affirmative-action/

        http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/us/2-convicted-in-1983-north-carolina-murder-freed-after-dna-tests.html

        Not when the criminal justice system, public education, housing, welfare, and basically everything else in this country has a racial bend to it. Just because Raven gets to remove herself from those systems does not mean we live in a magical colorless society.

        • I also want to be clear that I am not attacking Raven or her sentiments. I just think she worded her statement poorly, but at the same time there is no excuse for her ignorance. She has access to higher education and academia which is where we get language to discuss racial issues (that in itself is problematic). But the fact that her statements can be used against other POC makes this relevant. In the same way that no one wanted to listen to Rachel Jeantel because she reminded people of America’s broken promises, people want to listen to Raven because she looks and sounds like what America wants Black people to be.

        • I am pretty much aware of the damage that the United States has done, and continue to do.

          Mainstream white America will ignore the underlying problems of race because it’s comfortable for them to remain willfully ignorant , and that is regardless of how Raven chooses to identify herself.

          Racial identity doesn’t matter to white America because like most privileged groups, they simply don’t give a damn about the experiences of the marginalized unless it somehow starts to affect them.

          Raven is not responsible nor contributory to systemic racism. Nor is she erasing the identity or marginalization of other POC by eschewing labels. She is incredibly naive (probably due to the product of her environment) , but that naivete is something that she needs to mature out of on her own. The roasting at the stake effect…doesn’t work. Unless one is going for the opposite desired effect.

  17. Based on the ‘human who loves other humans’ and ‘american, not african-american’ comments, my guess is that Raven was using the rhetoric that she’d like to hear become common rhetoric. Her words seem a little ignorant to us because they are rather romantic/idealistic.

    I think it would be great if those hyphenated american labels dropped out of circulation and if our society somehow ended compulsory heterosexuality & gender binarism so that we’d all be free to be humans who love other humans. Unfortunately, we are not even close to that. And I think this article is commenting on that gap (or chasm). By trying to bypass current language surrounding queer politics, her words come off as almost denial and evasion of those politics.

    It’s weird. The only other portion of this interview that I’ve seen is where Raven sort of shames other celebs for getting angry at the paparazzi [while being at a popular restaurant during a current scandal]. Raven’s description makes it seem like paparazzi just come with the territory, they are a solid part of that reality, and you just have to deal with it. Which is totally not thinking idealistically (where reality is so malleable you can make what you want of it) but rather the opposite (where reality is what it is and you can’t change even the shitty parts).

    So I’m really confused about where she’s at. I need to find & watch the entire interview..

  18. I’m at work, so can’t watch the video but just wanted to say that I really do see where she’s coming from. She might not have phrased it particularly well, but this isn’t an easy topic to talk about at the best of times – and I’ve often found myself in situations where I can’t find the right words.

    The US culture of identity politics has never sat particularly well with me. I’m mixed race (unlike Raven?), and love that about myself. I don’t in any way trying to distance myself from my heritage, or downplay the fact that in the US i’m perceived as simply black. But I also don’t really identify as black, in the way I guess I’m expected to. I don’t even understand what identifying as black would really mean. Like, yeah that’s the colour of my skin. And yeah, it means that I share lots of experiences with other people who are the same colour as me. But I don’t feel like it defines me. If I was going to describe myself in my diary, I wouldn’t really talk about my skin colour. On the other hand, I probably would if I was writing a bio for other people, because I know it’s something that defines perceptions of me.

    Same goes for queer, gay, whatever. I know I’m a woman who’s attracted to other women. I know I’m not straight. But I don’t identify as a lesbian, and don’t know if I ever will – even if I never date a guy again. Maybe it’s because my experiences sound different to lots of gay women, or I’m just an anxious over thinker. All I can say for sure is that I don’t feel like my sexuality is at the core of who I am. I’m a human who loves humans actually feels pretty right to me.

    I don’t think that this should be interpreted as undermining the struggles of people who have trouble because of their identity. I do care, and I don’t think I’m some kind of sparkly non-racial unicorn who can just rise above and not be affected by it. I don’t let people making racist or homophobic remarks slide, and I do speak out as a member of the black and the queer communities. However, it’s also the case that these identities only really matter when I’m operating in society at large – they’re not a big part of how I see myself.

  19. If Oprah practiced what she preached she wouldn’t have had such a reaction. She is a big promoter of Eckhart Tolle and his work. Tolle wrote in A New Earth that we shouldn’t get caught up in labels and identities because they strengthen our ego and limit our awareness & experiences.

    It’s important for labels in practical situations (filling out forms, fighting inequality) but to let those labels dictate how you move and interact in the world is limiting.

    We should be angry that white people impose labels and create differences based on bigotry and ignorance. If Raven wants to reject limitations put on her by other people, then more power to her. How do we know that she hasn’t experienced discrimination and wants to fight back by rejecting it in her own way?

    I know how hard life has been trying to conform to everyone else’s ideas of what gay means, how a gay person should act, how I should speak, what I should be careful to say. Only when I reject those labels & restrictions is when I am free to be myself.

  20. I’m torn on this.
    For one, I see where she’s coming from wrt to African American vs just American. If you’re a white American, you’re just American, but any other racial group has to have something else tacked on: Mexican American, Hispanic American, Asian American, African American, etc. And that’s frustrating, when the default “American” = white in a lot of people’s eyes.
    Also, many people view African-American as a distinct ethnic group: descendants of American slaves brought over from Africa a couple hundred years ago. Not every black person in America fits that ancestral description. For example, my aunt just received her green card and moved from Canada to Texas. Her parents were both born in Jamaica, and moved to Canada as teenagers, whereas she was born and raised in Canada. Now that she’s living in Texas, she gets called “African-American” all the time, when’s she not. She’s Jamaican-Canadian.
    Of course, that’s not Raven’s story. But still. That qualifier in front of American if you’re not white gets really frustrating.
    As for not labeling herself as gay, whatever. I get the whole “you can’t label other people” but still, representation is IMPORTANT. Fucking important. Seeing Ellen and Rosie and Melissa Etheridge and all the other super lesbos on TV, being out and proud, when I was a kid did WONDERS for me. I can only imagine the wonders Raven could do.
    So, it’s complicated.

    • But she’s not closeted. she is openly in a relationship with a woman. She said that she does not want to be labeled as gay, and she also implied that she isn’t. And if you claim you’ve never met a young person who fits the definition of bi or pan who has said something similar to the “I’m just a human who loves human things” I just won’t believe you. She doesn’t want to have to define her sexual preferences precisely with a one-word answer on television. That’s totally fine with me- I think its weird how comfortable we are asking people the exact specifics of who they will and will not have sex with. That doesn’t make her closeted, and that doesn’t make her a bad example. Its also good for all the non-gay non-straight people to be represented. Its good to remind the world that not everyone in a same-sex relationship is gay.

      • But sexuality is so much more than who you will or will not have sex with. A choice she’d face prosecution for if she were born elsewhere. Sexuality is about who you can love and what you want to one day have. The fact that she has a choice to marry is because of Edie Windsor. She’s says proud of the Country. What about Mrs. Windsor? She just denied kinship to her.

        Now I’m African American and a lesbian. If she says her family, ancestry, culture and lived experience are nothing like mine that her choice. It still a denial.

        • I don’t disagree with you on the issue of continued existence of inequalities around race and sexual orientation. I also just think she pretty heavily implied that she doesn’t identify as gay because SHE ISN’T GAY. The fact that same sex relationships are criminalized in some countries doesn’t mean that she should pretend to identify with a label that doesn’t fit with her. Her choice not to be labeled as gay also doesn’t mean that she could now legally marry her girlfriend in whatever state she chooses or adopt a child in Russia. Woman in same sex relationships can both not have the rights of women in opposite sex relationships *and* not be gay. And if you think she’s “denying” her non-straight sexual orientation, then she’s doing a really awful job of it what with the whole openly dating a woman and all.

          As for the denying kinship with Ms. Windsor- well Ms. Windsor has stated in interviews that her spouse should not be referred to as her wife, perhaps because Thea Spyer was genderqueer. Does that still put Ms. Windsor in the category of “lesbian” since not all the people she is attracted to identify as women? I’m sure there are people who would debate that label. It’s certainly one of the the reasons I don’t identify as a lesbian. And guess what? Despite not identifying as a lesbian, I still can’t marry a woman in Texas.

      • 1) I agree with Salome.
        2) You can’t assume she’s bi or pan or whatever, either. You’re going to think she implied what you want her to have implied, same as me. Implications are bullshit. My opinion on what she said is as valid as yours, brah.
        I honestly and strongly think that sometimes, simply being in a relationship with a girl but still rejecting an acknowledgment of what that means about your sexuality is not enough. Like, if she’s a lesbian and just tiptoeing around it to preserve her image or whatever, that’s some bullshit. If she truly is all labeless, that’s fine, whatever. But that tiptoeing happens way too fucking much.
        Look at Jodie Foster. Or Anderson Cooper. Or Ellen and Rosie and Melissa back in the day. They all did the dance before finally admitting their homoness. There is a strength in verbally acknowledging your gayness, in saying, yes, it is okay to be gay. Words have meaning, words have power.
        My two cents.

        Oh, and I’m just saying, sure, I know bi people who prefer labellessness, but I also know so many lesbians (myself included) who, in their journey to being honest with themselves and the world, that did the little dance of refusing to say the word gay out loud in reference to themselves, EVEN when they in relationships with girls or just fucking them or whatever else. It’s scary, to say that word out loud in reference to yourself.

  21. Hi, is it alright to keep posting opinion-y comments on this site as a dude? Because this is pretty much the only place on the internet I feel safe as a queer feminist trans guy, that also has such consistently high quality content and doesn’t neglect intersectionality…? Please let me know if I overstep.

    But for now, here:
    As a white person I’m obv not the person to say anything with conviction about race or racial identity with regard to people of color, but, like some people up above have said, I think the notion of “American” (with no qualifiers) equaling “white American” is worth looking at, so in places where I identify myself as queer or trans (where I list my marginalized/oppressed identities, in other words) I also identify myself as white, able-bodied, allosexual, and anything else that I know of that’s relevant.

    And as for discomfort with labels in general (like “gay”) – I get that. I mean, I could easily describe myself as bi, queer, or gay, but none of those would give a particularly accurate impression of what kinds of people I’m into. The strategy that works for me is to use each label in different situations, and more recently it’s become important to me to identify as bi just for the sake of solidarity and visibility for other non-monosexuals/people who aren’t Kinsey 0s or 6s (as imperfect as that model may be), even though I’m mostly interested in dating men, and have never had a girlfriend in the way I’ve had boyfriends.

    Basically I’m saying that while I personally have never wanted to go label-free (because I don’t want to distance myself from my communities), I understand that labels can be really irritatingly inapt. And the “African American” label really isn’t always even accurate for people who are or who appear to be black, which….I’m mainly saying to remind myself. I don’t know enough about Raven to say if she falls under the umbrella, and it’s obv not appropriate for me to police her racial identity or even offer suggestions, but – internalized prejudice and label-policing and pressure to choose the “correct” label is very familiar to me as a bisexual, so I can imagine it would be at least as much of a headache to deal with when it comes to race.

    It would be really nice if we had more visible q&tpoc (and q&t people in general, and poc in general) celebrities so that the few out there didn’t have so much hope and also community pressure riding on them individually. Let’s all watch more movies and tv shows centered around people of color, and post bell hooks and Audre Lorde quotes on our Facebook walls every day, yes. (I say this, but my current movie/fandom obsession is very white-centric, and it’s part of a larger pattern. Definitely a hypocrite. Trying to branch out.)

  22. This is a tough one. Normally by “not seeing color” or being “colorless” we associate that with not seeing culture. But what Raven was saying was that she connects with many cultures.

    We are definitely still in a society where there is so much racism and sexism and homophobia, so it WOULD be nice for us if Raven could speak up and say “I am a queer woman of color.” But it’s definitely her choice not to label herself.

    Raven has also been in the media from a very young age. As a child star, maybe she never realized what an impact her choices and words could have. As long as the media’s eyes are on her, we expect her to be a role model, yet she is just a person living in this world like the rest of us, and maybe that’s what she’s aiming for.

    I don’t agree with her choices on this matter because it definitely is a setback to change, but I think a bigger problem we have is that we rely too much on celebrities to be role models for us. Because everyone sees them, not just the target market of Autostraddle. Maybe more forums such as this should reach more types of people so that our conversations don’t stay in our circle of obvious agreement and branch out.

  23. Why are we forcing here to say she’s gay? What if she’s pansexual, transexual, bisexual, or even intersex? give her a break.

    Raven-symone is far from being dumb. She supports gay rights and i don’t think she’s embarrassed to show the world who she’s in love with. If others are entitled to have a label, the rest should also be allowed to not have one without being persecuted. It’s not gonna make me think less of her as a woman.

  24. A. I don’t think that just because someone here is white that they don’t get to have any opinion. That feels completely wrong and opposite of the spirit of where she was coming from.

    B. Her identity is her personal choice. I don’t identify as AA. For one I’m from mixed family so it’s not entirley accurately. I have zero ties to Africa. I don’t speak an African language or practice any African traditions. For another, I dislike that white people don’t have to hyphenate and mostly cause I see myself as a person, an American. And no, I did not grow up with the privileges that she did. I do identify as a lesbian, but that is my choice.

    It’s not her responsibility or obligation to maintain ties to the community by having those identities. This is her life. You can’t just project all your feelings, hopes, and expectations on to her.

    • Thank you thank you thank you for calling attention to the notion that it is self defeating to say white people can not have an opinion here, let’s stop with that. I didn’t special order my cultural experience at birth, as I’m super positive neither did y’all… I am a white lesbian, struggling to pay the bills. My fiance is Hispanic, our cultures are different and we talk openly about this constantly, to take this Even further, my sister is married to a black man and has two kids… We have all been treated poorly based on race, based on SES, neighborhood, sexuality, pretty much any defining characteristic you can name. I think it is the same as skinny shaming in the name of body love, ignorant. We all live our own struggles every day, and all we can do is our own best to make those struggles something we can live with.. I think we should all be proud of raven, or anyone for that matter, for being true to themselves. It’s not her responsibility to fly a rainbow flag, even though it would be cool if she did.

  25. She’s not a colorless person. Look at her hair, for Pete’s sake.

    Just kidding. I don’t really care how Raven-Simone identifies. It’s her life. Other people’s words for themselves have no real importance to my reality.

  26. while it is important to treat people who are a different color than you with respect, you can’t be “color blind” because when you mentally strip them of their color you aren’t trying to see or understand how their life experiences differ and you can’t even begin to realize what they go through because they aren’t protected by the privileges that shield you. As much as people want to say that race doesn’t matter, its a part of you and your culture. Its what makes us beautifully different. I dislike that she doesn’t want to label herself as queer or African American because she is rejecting that part of her identity. She is sending the message that her identity is not something to be proud of and shed rather you focus on other aspects of her. With her kind of popularity, she could encourage queer women of color everywhere by representing them and embracing it. Dont get me wrong, she seems wonderful but it feels like she’s afraid of how her reputation is affected.

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