Raven-Symoné, Oprah, and What it Means to be (African) American

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-15 00:50Z by Steven

Raven-Symoné, Oprah, and What it Means to be (African) American

The Huffington Post
Black Voices

A. B. Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Last week entertainer Raven-Symoné appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? and proudly stated that she was in “an amazing, happy relationship” with a woman, yet what she followed up with turned out to be more surprising for some. After telling Oprah that she did not want to be labeled “gay” yet simply as “a human who loves humans,” Raven continued: “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African American; I’m an American.”

As Oprah shook her head, she responded, “Oh girl, don’t set up the Twitter on fire.” She then threw up her hands and yelled jokingly, “Stop, stop, stop the tape right now!” Twitter and the blogosphere certainly did blow up in response to Raven’s remarks, which many felt were blasphemous, not regarding her sexual orientation, but because she rejected being identified as African American.

Everyone has the right to identify as they please, and if she wants to, Raven-Symoné can certainly refuse labels surrounding her sexuality and ethnoracial background. However, she didn’t dodge all labels as rigorously as she claimed, for Raven still enthusiastically and without hesitation embraced the national label of “American.”

What might be more problematic is that Raven and Oprah both came to agreement on the point that “America” is supposed to be a “melting pot.” While their version of the “melting pot” may be that everyone is equally included in the melding of cultures that make up the United States, this has not been the case in the past and is still not the case today. (If we truly considered every culture as equal contributors to the U.S. “melting pot” then why in 2014 do we still have a sports team called Redskins and continue to celebrate Columbus Day as a national holiday?)

Oprah and Raven-Symoné are two models of excellence who deserve recognition for their achievements in media, entertainment, and life. Still, their recent conversation concerning ethnoracial identity and what it means to be “American” may have been misdirected in places and requires further discussion. These revealing comments provide us with a place for further conversation as we reflect on our views concerning the important topics of race, culture, and identity…

…While Raven never expected her personal comments would “spark such emotion in people,” those claiming mixed descent need to understand that speaking openly about their blended heritage can still be controversial, especially when they are perceived to be favoring their mixture over an identity of color.

When Raven-Symoné said, “I have lots of things running through my veins” she was being honest about her ancestry further back on her family tree. Still, some people of mixed heritage have used statements like these to distance themselves from stigmas associated with “blackness.”…

Read the entire article here.

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