Raven-Symone and the Implications of Identity

 

I’ve been gone for a minute but I’m back with da jumpoff thanks to Raven-Symone. Raven recently sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an OWN girlchat and predictably, her sexuality came up along with racial identity. Raven told Oprah:

Labels are a precarious thing. Some people swear by them and others see no use for them. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do think people put too much stock in them and the standards they impose upon the labeled. When someone is labeled or chooses a label, a set of standards and assumptions are imposed on them. If they don’t adhere to those standards, they risk demotion to a supposed lesser label and the standards and treatment that accompanies the new label. Gay, lesbian, Black and African-American all have standards and consequences so I can see why Raven might be wary to embrace them. The rigidity of labels tends to not apply to who or what they are labeling. Sexuality is the opposite of rigid. Raven is in a relationship with a woman now but doesn’t identify as gay and she shouldn’t have to do so. Being romantically involved with the same-sex doesn’t mean you’re gay or lesbian. There are plenty of people who claimed a sexual label until someone came through and rocked their world. Just ask Chirlane McCray who famously came out in Essence Magazine 1979 and is now married to Bill De Blasio, mayor of New York.

My own sexuality has been a heap of confusion. I dated men until my early 20s thinking I was bisexual or even straight despite knowing I’ve been attracted to other women since I was in middle school, like Raven. I date women and identify as lesbian but it doesn’t mean that label is finite.

The labeling of sexuality is a social construct just like race. Raven says she prefers to be called American over African-American and that’s her right. Race can be just as murky as sexuality, if not more, because it’s almost exclusively based on phenotype. To America, if you look white, you’re white and if you look Black, you’re Black. Hell, you can look white but if you have a Black great grandmammy, that means you’re Black according to the one drop rule. But, it’d be dishonest of me to act like it didn’t sting when she decided to identify herself as American and go on about her good hurr.  Blackness might be a social construct but I take so much pride in my Blackness because I live in a anti-Black society. I don’t have a problem with being called African-American because although I can’t point my nation of origin out on a map, my brown skin, full features and kinky hair scream Africa. I come from the oldest and strongest people on this Earth. Blackness has survived despite being raped, pillaged, enslaved and mutilated. When someone decides to reject Blackness as a label, I feel like they’re rejecting all of that and I take it personally. I don’t feel that when someone rejects lesbian because that label has been co-opted and white-washed to death. American is another white washed identity. The colorblind philosophy Raven spouts ultimately defers to whiteness because white is the default identity. To me, identifying as Black, African-American, Afro-American, African or something similar is an act of rebellion and Raven reeked of assimilation. That might make me a hypocrite but it is what is.

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