Monday, October 6, 2014

Twitter's tripping over Raven Symone's colorless approach

On twitter, folks have been tripping over a statement actress Raven Symone made in her recent interview on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The Disney-groomed star has declared herself colorless. Oprah, great mother to the misguided, tried to warn Symone that she'd take some heat for her assertion, but the younger woman didn't care.

And Oprah's probably already let it go because she knew the furor was coming. Look at how the Queen of TV hugs the former Cosby Show star in the picture below, showing the girl lots of love. Don't be mad. I'm not. Raven Symone and the rest of us need all the love we can get. But Symone, in this case, may need more because she's swallowed a chunk of racist propaganda and doesn't know she's in danger of choking.

E! Online quotes the conversation:
"I'm tired of being labeled," she said. "I'm an American. I'm not an African American; I'm an American."
"Oh, girl," a surprised Winfrey said. "Don't set up Twitter on fire...Oh, my lord. What did you just say?"
"I mean, I don't know where my roots go to," Raven explained. "I don't know how far back they go...I don't know what country in Africa I'm from, but I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I'm an American. And that's a colorless person."
She says that she connects with Caucasian, Indian, Asian, and Black. I do wonder where she thinks the Black comes from, though, if not Africa.

Despite being "from Louisiana," Symone apparently has forgotten that there's a term for being of mixed ethnicity down here. It's called "Creole." (Side note: Beyonce's family also has Louisiana Cajun/Creole roots.)

But even within that category, people still make a distinction. There's "Black Creole" and "White Creole."

So, what people hear when a person of African descent talks like Symone's talking is this: "I don't want to be Black." And they're not being unfair when they say that's what they hear. Notice that Symone did not specify first that she would not like to be labeled any of those other "races" or ethnic groups with whom she connects. And she didn't sound as though she merely has a philosophical or spiritual objection to being "labeled" a specific "color." She said she was "tired" of it, which indicates irritation, frustration.

I've got to quote Jesus here, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" because I've observed that whenever people make statements like hers in this so-called "post-racial" era, they focus on eliminating the Blackness label not Whiteness, which shows what's really in their hearts or on their minds even if they don't know it.

However, this is not just a Raven Symone issue. Many of the light-skinned "Black" Creoles of the past down here, those who appeared racially ambiguous said for the longest the same kind of thing Symone did. They declared that they are a group in between. Nonetheless, if you read the histories of such discussions, rarely is anyone decrying that they have sometimes been mistaken for White and want people to also acknowledge their Blackness. Almost always what angers them is that someone has called them "Colored, Negro, Black, or African-American."

Here I acknowledge that many light-skinned Black people do not think that way. I'm just making this point about "Black" Creole complaints because it's a fact that some take pride in their French, Spanish, and Native American roots but actively seek to distract attention from their African roots.

Symone is also not alone in her age group with this attitude. I've run into multiple 20-somethings, all of them dark brown to nearing blue black, who have said, "I'm not African-American! I'm an American." All of the Black 20-somethings that I've heard say this are educationally privileged, meaning they have college degrees.

Our education system is doing a poor job if these young people don't see the implications of the "Don't call me African-American. I'm just an American" statement. And they really think it's a perfectly logical assertion that shows how fair-minded and enlightened they are, as one young lady's tweet illustrates.
I get it. I get it. These young people want to feel accepted in America and for who they are, which is more than their physical appearance or ancestral origins. This desire to be accepted for who we are does not go away as we age. I do hope, however, that with age a sociological and political maturity arises in people that let's them see how short-sighted and insular that statement reveals them to be, not so much in terms of how they feel about themselves, but in whether they care about perpetuating the subjugation of African peoples, their descendants, and other oppressed groups.

Also, this "I'm colorless" mantra is not strictly an American phenomenon. Two years ago, a woman whose parents came to America from the Dominican Republic wrote on Blogher, "I'm Not Black. Why Do You Care?" I don't think I commented on that post, but I'll say here now, "I don't care what she calls herself," but I do care about how these kinds of statements feed into the racist rhetoric that to be of African descent, to be Black, is to be undesirable.

Generally, I don't argue with young people who make these kinds of statements. I try to cut them slack when it comes to opening their mouths and revealing their youthful ignorance. Symone and other people who are insufficiently-educated on global race matters and history are African-Diaspora illiterate. They are unaware that they are victims of Euro-American cultural brainwashing.

When I say African Diaspora, I'm referring to the dispersal of Africans from Africa as well as their displacement and oppression brought about by slavery, colonization, and segregation. Being Diaspora literate helps people understand Black culture on its own terms. When combined with the practices of critical literacy, Diaspora literacy can help people dissect and decipher rhetoric within texts categorized as academic or scientific as well as those that are political and "historical." These literacies encourage readers to examine the rhetorical methods these texts employ to perpetuate dehumanizing societal beliefs or persuade action against specific ethnic, religious, or gendered groups. In other words, people who are Diaspora and critically literate can see the bullshit being shoveled down society's throat that keep its members believing lies about Africa and its peoples.

Scholarship, scientific inquiry, policy proposals, and historical texts, no matter how much the authors declare themselves objective, have the world views of their authors embedded in them either boldly or subtly. Honest researchers, however, fight the human tendency to favor data that favors what they already believe or to ignore information that contradicts their beliefs.

 A good example of scholars failing to resist that tendency would be the work of archaeologists who either consciously or subconsciously accepted white supremacist rhetoric about sub-Saharan Africans and therefore denied for more than a century that the "Kushites overthrew the ancient Egyptians." With this denial, they perpetuated negative stereotypes of sub-Saharan Africa as a land without language, skill, or culture.

And even literary texts, such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness, have ideological pillars that should be examined. For more about racist tropes in that book, see Chinua Achebe's Hopes and Impediments.

All that said, Symone and other miseducated people can believe whatever they choose to believe and live under whatever philosophy that helps them sleep better at night or love themselves adequately. I, however, prefer to live with truth even if it means I endure some restless nights. Living with the truth furthers hope that one day we will all be free and live in a country of sincere inclusiveness not imprudent erasure. Denial of the truth hinders that day's arrival. People don't solve problems they can't see.

So, herein lies the truth: To deny or try to bury your African heritage knowing you are of African descent is to co-sign white supremacist policies and doctrines that oppress people of African descent. This denial flows from internalized racism and magnifies self-hatred.

To shun being called African-American or gay when you are Black and gay and to also make the statement, "I just want to be equal" or "I'm just American" is to cooperate in your own oppression. Such statements logically imply their inverse, which is people of African descent and people other than straight cannot be considered equal or American.

The question is if race, color, sexual orientation really don't matter to you and you know you have Black roots and are gay, why does it bother you that people refer to you as either?

The question is if you mean no disrespect to your African genes, why go out of your way to bury references to the African in you?

This instinct to bury Blackness makes you complicit in Black erasure, genocide, both physical and psychological. In other words, when you publicly promote the color-blind, gender-blind, or sexuality-blind approaches to solving social justice issues or, supposedly, to promote harmony, you are doing the opposite. You are complicit and a potential collaborator with the very systems you supposedly want to condemn.

We have keep having to review these elementary principles. Why can't there just be a book we give people when they show their ignorance on this topic? Don't answer that. I know the answer.

Nonetheless, just as Raven Symone is "tired of being labeled . . . African-American," I'm tired that people keep making statements that disparage being of African descent. The next time someone does an interview and they've got these issues about Blackness, I hope they'll keep it to themselves, and one day, maybe, when they wake up, they can attend remedial classes and figure out not who the hell they are but who do they want to be. For all our sakes, I hope it's someone more concerned about how the oppressed are treated than they are about being "labeled" a member of the oppressed

Each new generation of historically oppressed peoples must be educated to critically assess the targeted, dehumanizing propaganda of hegemony or that generation will unwittingly dance down a path to its own slaughter.

Race is a social construct, true, but the same world that constructed it has neither abolished its construction nor is it willing to let us demolish it without a fight. Race may not be real, but perception is everything. Race as construct, therefore, is real. Declaring alone "there is no spoon" does not topple the power that created the illusion of the spoon.

Blackness and how we perceive Africa and peoples of African descent is also a construct in terms of the qualities and attributes society assigns to Blackness and African. Reshaping negative perceptions does not rest in denying who created those perceptions and how they continue to have power over people's lives.

Self-ascribed colorlessness or declarations of color-blindness are manifestations of human dysfunction not progress. But if you don't get what I'm saying, then maybe you'll get it when Jane Elliot explains it here. Ironically, she said what she said on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

All that said, let's leave Raven Symone to her own devices. When you have fame and money in America, you can live in whichever bubble you choose, even the ones that contribute to the oppression of others and keep you blind. Let her live in her imaginary colorless world.

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