Raven-Symoné: Shaming or Empowering?

November 7, 2014 1:35 pm3,078 comments
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons -- Thaís Santos / @thaistitina

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons — Thaís Santos / @thaistitina

In a recent interview with Oprah, Raven-Symoné caused a major controversy with her strong opinions against labeling. Now, a majority of people on Tumblr seem to feel as if it’s necessary for her to label herself as a gay/bisexual/pansexual/African American woman.

What I want to know is: Why the hell does anyone else get to decide what she calls herself?

Throughout the whole interview, Symoné focuses on herself. At one point, in desperation, she says, “I don’t want to be labeled… I’m tired of being labeled… I don’t label myself.” She at no point says, “You cannot label yourself.”

Symoné argues that labels are restricting, and she can only speak from her own personal experiences about how she feels toward the matter. This is no more right or wrong than someone who feels that labels are empowering. Labels should not be thrown upon another person; rather, they should be used for oneself if one feels it is necessary.

Furthermore, Symoné has never said that she is not black. She merely said that she does not want to be labeled as African American. Yet people on Tumblr seem to be convinced that she said she was not black. Even Lord Jamar, a popular 90’s rapper, released a statement saying Symoné “obviously has an identity crisis… -culturally.”  Lord Jamar and everyone ranting on Tumblr clearly stopped the video as soon as she said, “I am American, not African American.”

If people continued to listen to the rest of the video, they would hear her say that she just does not know where her roots come from in Africa, but she can trace her roots within America. She also does not say, at any point, that other people cannot label themselves as African American. She just does not want to label herself African American, which doesn’t justify the arguments that she is shaming herself.

When Symoné goes on to say that she “connects” to other cultures, she is not using other cultures as a label. However, this has sparked anger in the Tumblr community as well. One popular post on Tumblr in response to her interview uses a famous .gif of Tyra Banks saying, “I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you!” By choosing how to identify herself, it is implied that Symoné is is in turn causing disappointment from her fans.

This shouldn’t be a problem, however, since she was not saying that she identifies with the culture she “connects to.” All that she meant by her statement was that she can relate to other cultures. She was not directly labeling herself “Asian” or “Indian.”

The underlying reason why so many people are angry at Symoné is not because of what she said, because what she said makes perfect sense to any rational individual. It is because those labels she refuses to call herself—“gay” and “African-American”—are still viewed as unusual, to some degree.

Yes, we can all say that America is less homophobic or racist than it was in the past, but let’s be honest, it is nowhere near perfect. By refusing to be labeled and only be called “human,” Symoné has left the majority of society with this uncomfortable thought process of, “No, I have to distinguish between you and everyone else.”

Not using labels is scary because it removes the ability for society to fit us into nice pretty boxes, and Symoné refuses to be part of that restriction of society. Instead of judging and lashing out at her, we should all take a moment and reflect on what this outrage against her refusal to use labels really says about American society. The answer might surprise you.


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