Black Twitter vs. Raven-Symoné: an oral history

On October 5th, 2014, Oprah Winfrey interviewed America’s Cheetah Girl, Raven-Symoné, in a televised event that would radically change the starlet’s public persona. In this episode of Where Are They Now?, Symoné offered a glimpse into her sexuality, explaining, “I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay,’ I want to be labeled a human who loves humans.

Without any prompting, Symoné continued: “I don’t like to be labeled, I am an American, not an African American—I’m an American.” Oprah, sensing the storm ahead, responded: “Oh girl, don’t set Twitter on fire… Stop, stop, stop the tape right now.”

This was auntie Oprah’s gracious forewarning. Although she did not speak in quatrains, this served as an apocalyptic premonition of Raven-Symoné’s digital future. Winfrey was hit with the same flashes that plagued Raven Baxter.

via BuzzFeed

And Oprah was right. As Philip Lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) told the Daily Dot, “Nostradamus couldn’t have foreseen Raven-Symoné’s future.” Cleary, Oprah Winfrey is an oracle, because Black Twitter would effectively drag Raven-Symoné for the rest of her life.

And so it began. She’d caught Black Twitter’s attention for all the wrong reasons, becoming the representative for post-racial, new-age blackness that the community so bitterly rejected.

Managing editor at Broadway Black and the force behind #OscarsSoWhite, April Reign (@ReignofApril) detailed Raven’s missteps in comments to the Daily Dot: “She defended the man who suggested that First Lady Michelle Obama could have been cast in the Planet of the Apes franchise. She didn’t know the difference between continents and countries in Africa. She denied her race and sexual orientation at a time when it would be important to see a Black queer woman using her platform for important issues. And she shamed Black people who have what some consider to be ‘non-standard’ names.”

Each incident resulted in a barrage of tweets whose authors seized every opportunity to mock Symoné. From when she defended a comparison of black goddess Michelle Obama to a Planet of the Apes character…

—to her botched geography of Africa…

—and rationalization of discrimination against people with “odd-sounding names”…

—the sentiment was always brutal. And the list goes on: When comes to Raven-Symoné, Black Twitter has absolutely no chill. 

Conversely, in spite of the public shaming, America’s psychic never stopped voicing her opinion. Comedian and host of Bodega Boys Desus Nice (@DesusNice) explained Raven’s commitment to what many considered racist and classist ideals, saying: “Those Cosby syndication checks got to her. Once your bank account reaches a certain level you enter a bubble where you lose touch with everyday people.” 

Elaborating on this division, April Reign said, “She has never known a life outside of being in front of a camera. Her success has also afforded her a certain privilege that many don’t share, so it may be hard for her to relate to the everyman and everywoman.” In other words, there was always a disconnect between Raven and the audience she entertained by performing in The Cosby Show, That’s So Raven, Cheetah Girls, Empire, Black-ish, and other TV shows.

Black Twitter expected something from Symoné that she was unable to give. Twitter personality Simone Fiasco (@SimoneFiasco)—not her actual last name—characterized these unmet ideals: “I think because a lot of us grew up with her & supported her acting…. not singing… endeavors some of us may have had this  projected idea about her viewpoints.” 

Philip Lewis added, “Sometimes we believe that the actors are the same as the characters they play (i.e. Bill Cosby & Cliff Huxtable), but I believe that nothing went wrong with Raven. She’s just finally voicing her opinion out on things.” We had elevated the concepts of Raven Baxter and Olivia and Galleria from Cheetah Girls without knowing who Raven-Symoné actually was. And now she was saying exactly what she thought, regardless of Twitter criticism:

The View named Raven-Symoné the new co-host in the show’s first season without Barbara Walters. The show, which premiered at -22% below its normal viewership, hovers at a proud 1.0 rating among its target demographic of women between 25-54. Soon, Raven’s ability to bring controversy to the declining daytime show became its defining quality. For every derogatory comment she made, there came a backlash.

Symoné recieved so much negative attention that after she chastised a young student assaulted by a school officer in class, the online community created a Change.org petition calling her removal from The View. It garnered nearly 140,000 signatures.

Supporting the only host on The View that got consistent press, ABC released a statement: “ We love Raven… She is confident, genuine and opinionated, all qualities that make her a great addition to the panel.” Raven-Symoné’s job was to jump-start conversation, and she was doing it well. April Reign explained Symoné’s stint on the show: “The View seems to require that at least some of the co-hosts take very controversial views and doggedly defend them, perhaps to create a buzz and command ratings. But one must ask ‘at what cost?’”

The cost was an eternal spot on Black Twitter’s shit-list. On The View, Raven was goading Black Twitter to react. Many agreed that she was blatantly trolling the community. Simone Fiasco said that Raven’s views were expressed to “generate buzz and create clickbait.” Desus Nice agreed, explaining, “Black Twitter knows she’s trolling. It’s so obvious it’s insulting yet genius. She knows if she says something scandalous or outlandish she’ll be a trending topic and the subject of several thinkpieces. And that’s always a good look for a TV show.” He continued, “Raven gotta keep those checks coming so she’s fully aware of what she’s doing.”

But every time Raven gave her honest opinion, Black Twitter was allotted another opportunity to ridicule her Disney Channel background, hypocritical existence, and purple mohawks.

Symoné has laughed about this fraught dynamic, telling US Weekly, “[Oprah] told me that black Twitter is going to hate me forever. She was right.” She did not care what this community thought of her—at all. (The Daily Dot reached out to Symoné for further comment and has yet to receive a reply.) But although she could easily annoy and provoke these commentators, no one could agree to hate her, exactly.

Simone Fiasco “I don’t hate her, I DO hate seeing the words ‘Raven Symone said’ roll down my timeline.” Reign agreed: “Black Twitter does not operate as a ‘hive mind’ and we share differing views on the same subject all the time. I don’t hate Raven, and the people that I’ve talked to don’t hate her either. We want better for her.” Desus Nice put it plainly: “She’s just there, in the grand scheme of things I’m not losing sleep over Raven-Symoné.” 

And there we have it. On reflection, Black Twitter luminaries typically decide that Raven-Symoné is of viral interest but ultimately wields limited influence over their daily lives. Truthfully, she was and is Black Twitter’s greatest troll, the ying to their yang, lobbing one outrageous sound bite after another. It was in her best interest to keep the community polarized, inciting audiences to tweet and retweet, while it was in the community’s best interest to check her new-age blackness, also routinely observed in black entertainers like Don Lemon and Common.

Ultimately, Simone Fiasco said, “I can’t fault her for having opinions that make sense to her. I also can’t tell you how those opinions/viewpoints could possibly make sense. But I’m not Raven-Symon-gratuitous-accent-over-the-e Pearman.”

Raven Symone will just keep trolling, and Black Twitter will continue to put her in her place. She’ll get the payday, but Black Twitter always gets the last laugh. Desus Nice’s advice to Rave is as good a summation as any: “Don’t trust your hairdresser if they continuously make you look like a woodpecker.”

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Ziwe Fumudoh

Ziwe Fumudoh

Ziwe Fumudoh is a writer and comedian. Her work has appeared in the Onion and Reductress, and she is a co-host at Crooked Media.