Commentary: Are You Black, Black-ish or Not Black at All?

Raven-Symone

Commentary: Are You Black, Black-ish or Not Black at All?

You're missing out on a lot more than a label by not embracing being African-American.

Published October 8, 2014

No one can ever say that Oprah Winfrey doesn't love the children…or at least the former child stars. When Raven-Symoné sat down with her for an interview that aired last week on OWN, The Cosby Show star pointed out that she did not want to be labeled as gay, she wanted to be known as “a human who loves humans.”

Oprah did not look confused about this, yet ex-little Olivia felt the need to explain further. She continued and said, "I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American, I’m not an African-American." And this was when Oprah swooped in like a superhero to save her.

"Stop, stop, stop the tape right now!" Super O said, warning Symoné that the Internets, the Twitters, the Black people were not going to be happy with this talk and they were going to let her know they thought it sounded crazy. But she would not be silenced. She made it clear that, although she has "darker skin" and "a nice, interesting grade of hair," her roots are traceable only as far back as Louisiana and therefore, she is an American. And that Americans are “colorless.”

Stop the racial progress presses. The protesters still getting arrested in Ferguson and the grand jury hearing evidence on the NYPD killing of Eric Garner with a chokehold — these people may feel that a passport with an American cover and ancestors who you can trace back to the South does not make you “colorless.” And while Raven-Symoné may be a “melting pot in one body,” as Oprah quipped, the majority of “darker skin” people are indeed proud to consider ourselves hyphenated African-Americans. Since the rest of the world has not erased our color, perhaps it is dangerous and not strategically wise for us to be self-identifying as colorless.

At the same time, being an African-American is about a lot more than police brutality and racism. It is about a rich cultural tradition, about the unique contributions that Americans of African ancestry have brought here. There is a cuisine and music and style and dance and so many other things that have literally changed the artistic landscape of the world. Many would argue that as a former star of The Cosby Show, Symoné has done more than her share to contribute to African-American culture.

The actress’s comments also come at an interesting time because one of the most popular TV shows in the country right now is Black-ish, and it is all about labels. The pilot episode, one of the top rated shows of that week, was a 30-minute exploration of what label to slap on various things: Black or not Black. Fried chicken? Black. Baked chicken? Not Black. Tracee Ellis Ross's hair? Black. Tracee Ellis Ross’s butt? Black. Tracee Ellis Ross’s character’s biraciality? Not Black. Basketball? Black. Field hockey? Not Black. And on and on and on. In a world where children are told to strive to be all they can be, Black-ish is there to remind them that someone — maybe even a major network television show — will be there to put their actions into tiny little boxes. It is the anti-Raven-Symoné approach to living and identity.

In the long run, does it really matter what an actress and a TV sitcom say about African-American identity? Do their perspectives influence the rest of the world or is how we identify really a personal or familial decision that people have to make on their own, outside of what Hollywood thinks? While it seems premature and like a slap in the face to the activists out there fighting to make the world a good place regardless of color to say, “Hey, there is no color,” ultimately some could argue to each his own. But to those trying to go at this race thing in America alone, they may soon find themselves seriously needing the love, support and backing of the group they were so quick to shuck off.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: OWN TV)

Written by Ayana Byrd

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