Raven-Symone deserves to be called out. But she also deserves help.
You probably know someone just like Raven-Symoné.
The beleaguered co-host of The View just can’t keep her foot out of her mouth when it comes to matters of race. The former child star proudly proclaimed she wouldn’t hire someone with a “Black” name like “Watermelondrea.” It took her fellow panelists to issue a course correction, with Paula Faris calling out the discriminatory attitude. Even Joy Behar offered a friendly reminder that white people love naming their children after fruits, vegetables, and all kinds of weird things (Apple Martin, anyone?). Dare I say it, Raven, but that’s so internalized racism.
Whether she likes it or not, her words—coming from a woman with African-American ancestry—sting. Even further, they betray a lack of self-awareness. As Jamilah Lemieux writes at Ebony, “Her name is Raven hyphen alternate spelling of ‘Simone,’ complete with what could be considered a gratuitous accent mark … and yet she feels compelled to punch down at those who also have names that are also Black as a dice game at a church fish fry, but may not have hit the faux French mark as well as her own.”
After all her foul remarks about racism in America, many Black people and others have every reason to avoid supporting Raven-Symoné’s work, let alone watching The View. It’s their prerogative. Raven-Symoné deserves to be called out, but she—like many other Black people and other people of color—also needs help and education to help elevate her discourse on issues of race. The 29-year-old is still learning and coming to terms with how she reconciles her racial identity—a struggle to mentally dismantle negative stereotypes and perceptions of Black people.
Some might wonder how a celebrity like Raven-Symoné could still hold onto such problematic beliefs about race in 2015. After all, just a year ago, she vocally disavowed her Black ancestry in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, never mind the fact that Black people catapulted her into superstardom by way of the Cosby Show. “I’m tired of being labeled,” she said. “I’m an American. I’m not an African-American. I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person.”
But it’s hardly surprising, especially in an age when most young people (otherwise known as millennials) declare themselves post-racial and denounce racism, yet harbor beliefs that reinforce institutional racism and various forms of racial prejudice. According to a 2014 David Binder research study as part of MTV’s Look Different campaign, 73 percent of young people believe that never considering race would help improve society. Yet that conflicts with another key finding, as 81 percent of them believe that embracing diversity and celebrating differences between the races would help improve society.
It’s therefore not beyond the imagination that Raven-Symoné could be publicly trying to make sense of the intersections of her racial identity and sexuality.
Raven-Symoné isn’t some kind of strange aberration. She’s a product of her generation, her formal education, and her life experiences. And she’s not alone in having conflicted feelings about race and identity, especially while coming of age in the era of America’s first Black president.
Still, any struggle with internalized racism isn’t only age-specific, as her own racial background and even her queer sexuality may play a role. As psychology professor Beverly Greene argued in a 2002 issue of the Rutgers Law Review, internalized racism affects African-American lesbians and bisexual women in ways that give them a different experience of Blackness than many of their counterparts.
African-American families and communities charge that lesbianism is an acquired “white man’s disease” or “Western sickness” that comes from being in too great a proximity to White people or trying to be like them. African American lesbian and bisexual women who work, live, or play in predominantly White environments may be more vulnerable to taking this challenge to the authenticity of their “Blackness” seriously. Viewing lesbianism as “White” is often connected to the more pernicious beliefs a woman may harbor about herself and about other African Americans.
It’s, therefore, not beyond the imagination that Raven-Symoné could be publicly trying to make sense of the intersections of her racial identity and sexuality—and she refuses to be labeled on either front, expressing her need for individuality, and to just be a human who loves other humans.
As a Black, queer, non-binary person, it’s a process I wrestled with for years—seeking understanding in heteronormative parts of the Black community and in white-normative elements of the LGBT community at the same time. In many instances, I was rendered invisible in both communizes. At one point, I resisted labels. At another, I clung to my chosen identities with everything I had. And in recent years, I learned how to carry each part of myself, understanding that they intersect in a way that makes me who I am and that I don’t have to edit myself to make anyone else comfortable—let alone to “fit in” at work, on dates, and even in my family.
We can be upset with Raven-Symoné, but we need to be just as upset with the harrowing specters of racism that linger in our institutions and in our own dialogues
But through it all, I had a dope collective of Black queer and same gender-loving people—as well as allies outside of the LGBT community—who loved me while I was enduring the pain of internalized racism and homophobia. And when I needed a course correction, they aided me in their own, gentle way.
I’m not sure what kind of support Raven-Symoné has or if she’s being challenged from within her inner circle (other than her father’s public denouncing of her “Black-sounding names” remark). Ultimately, it’s not even my business. But in calling her out (or rather, calling her in), there needs to be just as much attention on her remarks as the negative social attitudes and systems that inform them.
We can be upset with Raven-Symoné, but we need to be just as upset with the harrowing specters of racism that linger in our institutions and our daily lives. With a little bit of help and a little bit of time, Raven-Symoné will most certainly find a clearer view.
Derrick Clifton is the deputy opinion editor for the Daily Dot and a New York-based journalist and speaker, primarily covering issues of identity, culture, and social justice. Follow Derrick on Twitter: @DerrickClifton.
Image via The View on ABC/YouTube