Oct 8, 2014

Raven Symone, Semantics, and the Default American

In a statement released to the Grio, Raven Symone has responded to what social media has had to say about her recent statements on the Oprah interview:

“I never said I wasn’t black … I want to make that very clear. I said, I am not African-American. I never expected my personal beliefs and comments to spark such emotion in people. I think it is only positive when we can openly discuss race and being labeled in America.”

Now, here we are at a battle of semantics. Many media outlets have posted about this story and the one that preceded it, and many commenters from around the blogsphere have had critical backlash to offer to Symone regarding her African ancestry. Raven has responded by defining herself by (get this) a label! 

I hate to harp on about it, since I blogged about it just yesterday, but it really seems like Raven Symone hasn't thought this all the way through. Right now, however, the hypocrisy is beside the point. Let's, instead, focus on what it is Raven is saying with this latest statement: she is an American. Specifically, she is a black American. 

I wholeheartedly understand from where she's coming with this, as well. I have often said on the Edugaytion Podcast that the term "African-American" is, if not offensive, inconsiderate at the very least. One of my friends, an American from Haiti, was filling out the bubbles on a standardized test in college, once. I'm sure you can imagine where this story is going. The same goes for us black Americans. Why are we being labelled and qualified by a country that has nothing to do with our culture, save the fact that it's the place from where our very distant ancestors came? 

Furthermore, what is a plain ole' regular "American"? I imagine that images of a upper middle class to upper class white family, including two children, one dog, and a house with a white picket fence come to mind. After all, for decades we've used that picture as the "American dream." Truth is, however, there are plenty of plain ole' regular "Americans" of color in the United States of America. Being a minority does not take away from one's citizenship. In the video above, "What Kind of Asian are You?" we see the very privileged ideal system by which a lot of people in this country operate:

Unless you are white, you're not the default American image.
If you are a person of color other than black, you MUST have come from somewhere else.
If you ARE black, you're "African-American." 

This exclusiveness, this divide that people have created when they think of traditionally "American" things is at the core of my frustrations with regard to the hyphenated label "African-American", and I believe that Raven Symone and I are alike in that respect. Until we can get past this hurdle, the country will continue to struggle with issues of race and nationality. 

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