Roxanne Jones, CNN, October 8, 2014
I get it. Raven-Symone doesn’t like labels. But she is wrong to run away from her blackness, seemingly hoping that no one acknowledges her beautiful brown skin and the history written all over her face.
“I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African-American. I’m an American.” The former star of “The Cosby Show” and “That’s so Raven” told Oprah Winfrey. “I mean, I don’t know where my roots go to. 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, because we’re all people. I have lots of things running through my veins.”
Many of us have been exactly where she is, struggling to fit in. Trying to be “colorless” when there’s no way to look at someone without noticing appearance. And that includes color.
But Raven’s dilemma is part of the black experience in America. Our identity is not really a matter of choice. Black people were forefathers of this nation: slaves, soldiers, scholars and dedicated women and men who helped create these United States of America. For me, rejecting your blackness is downright un-American. The two words are inseparable. Being black equals being American.
So no matter how she tries to deny us, Raven is still ours, still black in the eyes of her community. And we remain proud of her. Proud and patient because we understand how the heavy burden of labels can crush your spirit and get in the way of your dreams.
I’m not sure when this notion first clicked for me, that you cannot be black in this nation without also claiming your American-ness.
Maybe it was years ago after my great-aunt Rosie showed me a photo in our family album of one of my ancestors gallantly posed in his Civil War uniform.
That soldier was a black American.
Or, when my aunt talked with pride about her father who couldn’t read or write in any language but was a successful French chef in the South.
That chef was a black American.
No matter what label the world may choose to describe me, one thing I never doubt is that I am a strong black American woman, whose heart beats with the African and Caribbean blood of my ancestors. Knowing this gives me strength, courage and joy every day of my life.
I cannot imagine ever separating myself from all of the courageous people who came before me to break down barriers, share their wisdom and pave the way so my journey is just a little bit smoother in this life. And in spite of her protests when Raven looks back just a bit, she’ll understand: She is also, among other things, a black American.