Actress Raven-Symoné was the subject of the Wednesday premiere of Oprah Winfrey’s “Where Are They Now?” She lit up a firestorm in the Blacksphere when she said, “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American, I’m not African-American. I’m an American.”
You could tell that Oprah really did not like Raven-Symoné saying this. She attempted to joke it off and play the objective interviewer, but she was not pleased with Raven’s emphatic statement that she defines herself as an American, not by a certain phrase. Knowing Oprah’s proclivities of late to deal the race card, this is not surprising.
What is also not surprising is the hue and cry on Twitter and in other social media.
Roxanne Jones, founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and former ESPN vice president, took to CNN to register her disagreement. “I get it. Raven-Symoné doesn’t like labels. But she is wrong to run away from her blackness, seemingly hoping that no one acknowledges her beautiful brown skin and the history written all over her face.”
Why is Raven-Symoné’s refusal to use the African-American label equivalent to turning her back on her race? As if a label is anything but a form of categorization. Raven herself said this about her initial discovery of her sexuality: “I don’t need a categorizing statement for this.” From reading the Twitter feeds, very few people are getting up-in-arms about her unwillingness to check the “gay” sexuality box, but plenty of people are highly upset at her unwillingness to check the “African-American” box, and are inferring all types of negative baggage from it.
Back in 1997, Tiger Woods, another supposed “Black” role model (he didn’t volunteer for the role) that the Blacksphere embraced as one of their own (also something he didn’t seek out), pretty much said a similar thing. When Oprah ruled the airwaves on network television, he said in an interview on her ABC show, “Growing up, I came up with this name: I’m a `Cablinasian’. He felt the name best captures his racial makeup: a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. Black people got up in arms and called him a denier, a self-hater, and a sell out too.Dr. Martin Luther King said “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” From the N-word, to Colored, to Negro, to Afro-American, to Black, to African-American, the label has been molded to reflect the times and the generation; and each generation has a right to say that the label no longer fits, or that it does not adequately define me.It is refreshing that Raven-Symoné wishes to lead, and I applaud her right to do so.