Raven-Symone, best known as The Cosby Show’s Olivia and star of Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven, has decided she doesn’t like labels. Well, she only likes one label, I guess.
On OWN’s Where Are They Now, Raven sat down October 5 with Oprah to discuss her past accomplishments, future projects and plans, and personal life—including her recent coming out as a lesbian. Oprah asked if she wanted “to be labeled gay.” But Raven was having none of that labeling, and retorted, “I want to be labeled a human who loves humans, [and] I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American; I’m not an African-American, I’m an American.”
“Oh, girl, don’t set the Twitter on fire!” Oprah said as she laughed and adjusted her seat.
Given the chance to walk her statement back, Raven doubled down: “I will say this: I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back and I don’t know what country in Africa. I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person.”
Though I’m certain she meant no harm, this is without a doubt a statement packed with problems. One pressing issue with this declaration is that she didn’t want to be labeled black. I say black because there’s a great deal of racism inherent in the term African-American. Africa is a continent, and to lump a whole continent into an ethnicity implies uniformity. Irish, Italian, Greek and French folk don’t get labeled European Americans.
Discussing blackness as a label is useless because black isn’t a nationality or sexuality, it’s an external identifier in this country, and one of great consequence. Sexuality can be masked; nationality can be masked and even changed. The negative effects of either can be blunted with money and privilege to a far greater degree than the negative effects of blackness––think housing discrimination––and this is due in large part to the ubiquity of blackness. Look at it this way: If you walk into a bank and deposit $1 million, what will they know about you without having to ask: your color, your sexuality, or your nationality?
That’s because labels are fluid, and identifiers are static.