I am Black. I am a black lesbian. I know that the media and society at large does put a premium on me or my identity at all as evidenced by the unwillingness to show someone like me on TV unless she is wearing an orange jump suit and living it up in prison. I had almost forgot that Raven Symone had divorced herself from blackness and queerness until her most recent until her most recent attempt to assert her colorlessness (is that even a word) on the view. Her failure to understand when our own first lady was attack by the most extreme form of anti-blackness from another person of color brought up many sore sports that I guess I will have to take up here.
I understand that the hope and the dream is that we live in a post racial society where we are all human beings navigating this world as one. But I think my good friend Eko Canillas said it best “”What troubles me most is her lack of sophistication in understanding to achieve (what I think she is trying to suggest) post-racial, post-sexist, etc. society, individuals and communities must also be liberated from the systems which oppress and dismiss identities. To do this, language is needed to identify and discuss where the patterns of disempowerment occur to dismantle it. I think her life of celebrity privilege does not require her to survive in these experiences so she is positioned to live her life accordingly without regard to those who are not afforded the same resources or opportunity.” We know that we do NOT live in a post-racial society. Not with black and brown men being gunned done for no reason other than their color. Not with our black President being subjected to more racist ridicule than any other president in history. We most CERTAINLY do not live in a post-sexist society where no one understands the trauma of street harassment until a young woman is murdered for rejecting a man’s advances or where the NFL receives more press for domestic violence cases than philanthropy work. A person who has lived in the celebrity bubble their entire lives have no real concept of the systems of oppression that are associated with what they are trying to dismantle. Because they navigate a world where doors are automatically opened for you IN SPITE of your color they believe the barriers no longer exists. In their worlds race does not in fact matter any longer. Until the day it actually does. Ask OJ Simpson.
You have to know how inherently dangerous it is to let society teach you that it is ok to separate you from your heritage. When you do that, you effectively assist in the erasure of that heritage which is exactly what this white capitalist society wants. During the time of slavery the first order of business once the slaves were ripped from their country was to make them forget. Whip and torture them until they finally forget the culture that they came from so that they could finally submit to the culture of the master. What we are seeing with modern day black celebrities is this same sort of psychological tactic minus the physical torture. Raven isn’t the first to be taught to be “clear” in order to make that jump into stardom. Over the years there have been many conversations about what mega-stars like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston had to go through in order to “transition” into mainstream pop stars.
To be fair, in her previous appearance on OWN, Raven did make some noteworthy points but her ideas got lost in what she said and HOW she said it. She makes a good point that not all people that are labeled as African-American are descendants directly from Africa. But the platform and wording that she used made it much more potent. Her appearance on “The View” was a horse of a completely different color. Deciding that the cure for racism is to feign ignorance is just ridiculous. When she speaks all I can hear in my head was Loretta Devine’s voice from the movie “Jumping the Broom” when she took Angela Bassets black high society character to task about not being black. “Honey you black. You may have all this money and things but you BLACK!” The same black that brought you stardom on a landmark BLACK sitcom. The same black that made you exotic enough for Disney to want to build a show around you to “normalize” being a black teenager. The same black that made you SO exotic that Disney decided to build you into a brand. The same black whose children you claimed to be a role model for because they needed one. The same black that had you explaining the complexities of black women and their weaves in “Black Hair.” The same black that makes you more susceptible to being raped or murdered because you are a black woman and last that I checked woman was not a label you rejected. The same black that could have your face on the pavement at the hands of the police. The same black that could flip that exotic inside out and have you called fat, funny looking, or trashy. The same black that will give you privilege based on your light skin. None of those can be changed by a broad statement not to label you. Instead start by breaking the narrative around those labels. Then start to slowly chip away at the power system that they serve. But maybe breaking down the power system would be totally the opposite of being able to maintain your top tier celebrity status. That in itself is another blog.