Identity is a tricky thing. A complicated thing. A constantly changing thing. The person you were at seventeen won’t be the person you are at twenty-five; the person you are at twenty-five won’t be the person you are at forty-six. The person you are at forty-six … you get the picture. Priorities shift; ideals change. The bits and pieces of ourselves we once deemed irrelevant become part of us; the legacies we shun are inevitably embraced. So, when I read the Oprah interview with former child star Raven-Symonè, all I could do was shrug. And chuckle. Mostly chuckle. An excerpt:
“I knew when I was, like, 12,” the entertainer, now 28, recalled. “I was looking at everything.” Still, the actress cautioned, “I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay.’ I want to be labeled ‘a human who loves humans.’”
“I’m tired of being labeled,” she said. “I’m an American. I’m not an African American; I’m an American.”
“Oh, girl,” a surprised Winfrey said. “Don’t set up Twitter on fire… Oh, my lord. What did you just say?”
“I mean, I don’t know where my roots go to,” Raven explained. “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.” Winfrey warned, “You’re going to get a lot of flak for saying you’re not African American. You know that, right?” The College Road Trip star put her hand up and reiterated, “I don’t label myself. I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian. I connect with Asian. I connect with Black. I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture.”
Awkward, troubling language aside, I get the gist. No one likes being put in a box and treated as though that’s all they are. Americans are many different things, even black Americans, despite what certain sections of Twitter may believe. We are a global presence. We are everywhere, including Louisiana. But the presence of other ethnicities in our DNA doesn’t make us “colorless,” nor does it erase our primary identity. I can’t tell Raven-Symonè how to identify herself. People have a right to see themselves however they choose. But the idea of a “colorless” monolith is rooted in fantasy and erasure. Diversity is important. Recognizing our differences and respecting them, equally so.
I wonder if, ten years from now, Raven will look back at this interview and cringe.