Taking the “African” out of “American”: Raven-Symone and Political Correctness

Although Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network (pretty redundant since the “N” in the acronym stands for “network”) is not as wildly popular as her self-named talk show, at least she has this going for her: numerous interviews that she airs on OWN are hot topics in popular culture. Incendiary, they definitely are. There’s the Rihanna interview, in which the singer states that Chris Brown–her ex-boyfriend who physically assaulted her in 2009–is the love of her life. There’s the Lance Armstrong interview, in which the cyclist confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs will competing. Never falling short of delivering, Oprah recently sat down with former child-star Raven-Symone of The Cosby Show and That’s So Raven fame. Now twenty-eight years old (and looking good!) Raven sat down with the matriarch of talk shows and discussed many things: how she didn’t become an out-of control, statistical child-star; how she is in a same-sex relationship; and, oh, how she doesn’t want to be called African-American.

The whole “I’m American; not African-American” claim originated from the discussion of Raven’s sexual orientation. In the summer of 2013, Raven tweeted in support of the government’s decision to allow same-sex marriage. While not saying that she’s gay per se, Raven did say that she is now able to get married. When pressed by Oprah, Raven admits that she is, in fact, in a happy relationship with another woman, but does not label herself as “gay.” She doesn’t need a categorizing term, she feels, as she is just a human who loves other humans. Aren’t we all? On the topic of labels, Raven states that she doesn’t want to be labeled. And then, labels herself as “American” as opposed to “African-American.” Ms. Winfrey warned her against that, as she’d set Twitter ablaze with a comment that many have found self-hating. Raven responded with a statement in which she says the following:
“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.” I, for one, completely agree.

Raven has African ancestry. That’s indisputable, and she does not contest that. However, Raven is right in claiming that her roots are in the state of Louisiana. She is American. Labeling her “African-American,” whereas Tom Cruise, for example, is just “American” is really counterproductive for social progression. The modifier, the prefix, “African” sets her apart as “other.” “She’s not a regular American. No, she’s an African-American,” it essentially says. What is a regular American, you might wonder? One who is born here. I’m not saying that naturalized citizens have no claim on American identity, but just as Tom Cruise and Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise (born in California and New York, respectively) are Americans, what makes Raven different? Her ancestry should not factor into this. She is an American of African and possible Caucasian and Native American ancestry, most likely (products of colonialism). By constantly using these racial and ethnic modifiers before “American,” the people at whom they are aimed are just set up as “others.”

My parents are from the Caribbean and are now naturalized citizens. I was born in Boston, MA. No, I am not Caribbean-American, Black American, Haitian American, or whatever other modifiers could be used to describe me as someone whose ancestors originated in Africa and ended up in the Caribbean. I am an American of Haitian descent. That’s it. As someone who has lived in this country all her life thus far,and who seeks to work to make this country a better place, I do not need to be set up as an “other.” I was born here, love this country, and aim to improve. I am American. Come at me, bro. rave

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