Raven-Symoné made a few comments during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that– as the tv show host predicted– caused quite a stir in the online world. The child actress not only eschewed the label as a “gay” person, but also, without hesitation claimed that she did not identify with the term “African-American” and viewed herself as a “colorless” American:
“I’m an American. I’m not an African-American; I’m an American… 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.”
Her statements were met with varied reactions. Some spoke in defense of Symoné, saying that she has the right to claim her Americanness– absent of her African ancestry– since White people are not forced to self-identify their ethnic origin. Those individuals can identify with Raven’s dream– a long-standing dream of the African-American– to be absorbed into “Americanness,” to escape the status of the minority, to escape the “African” marker of marginalization. A dream yet to be realized in the face of rampant police brutality, discrimination and institutional racism.
Others were outraged– and rightfully so.
Ms. Symoné’s attempt to erase the rainbow of color that paints the picture of American history undermines the collective struggle of minority people who have never been seen as colorless.
The hues which shade each individual darker or lighter than the other has its own, very specific, important history. A history that empowers and implicates some and oppresses and victimizes others. A history that cannot be erased despite every and any attempt.
Historically, in America, any individual “tainted” with at least 1/8th “Blackness” (like Raven-Symoné) has occupied an inferior position compared to the superior Whiter man: that idea is truly American. The concept of using skin pigment, or the absence thereof, to impose an entire system of social, cultural, political and economic hierarchy is American.
“Colorlessness”, however, is not, nor has ever been, a reality of America; a truth by which the society was/is bound.
It was not a truth when in Louisiana, the location to which Raven is admittedly connected through ancestral roots, the largest slave revolt in American history took place right outside of New Orleans and Black slaves were hunted down by White militias who decapitated them and displayed their piked heads on levees. Nor was it truth when similar levees crumbled during Hurricane Katrina, flooding thousands of homes occupied by poor, underprivileged, Black people– 1,500 of whom lost their lives– who were neglected by their own government and shot down in the streets by their own law enforcement, in what will go down in history as the worst civil engineering failure to date. It was not a truth when Louisiana’s first people– Chocotaw, Natchez, Caddo, Koasati–colored and labelled red, were massacred by greedy settlers. It was certainly not a truth when signs hung above bathroom doors and restaurant seats that read “White” and “Colored.” It is not truth as Louisiana’s historical racist and segregated school system still makes Black access to a decent education a nearly impossible feat. And still most certainly is not truth when America’s first president, a man of equal “African” and “European” heritage, is labeled, and often times degraded, because of his status as the country’s first “Black” president, despite all claims that America is a post-racial, colorblind society.
Yet, this false reality of “colorlessness” is the one that Raven-Symoné attempts to inhabit and purport with the declaration of her intention to not be labelled as she is– Black, African-American–according to American history, according to her own self-proclaimed connectedness to Louisiana’s very colored past and present. A privilege, which by the way, can only be enjoyed because of the countless African-American ancestors who paid the price of their inescapable Blackness with their lives and freedom to allow her to display such utter and sheer disregard for their sacrifice.
To Raven-Symoné and those who believe “American” to be synonymous with “colorlessness,” rest assured, there exists no people without pigment in this country. Even “White”, color-absent America is stained by a blood-red history: A colored history to which all of America is forever bound. And a present that recreates and reinforces the shackles created by that history. In that way, not a single individual can escape. Not without undoing that which constrains those around them.