That’s So Raven: The Complicated Roots of Black Denialism

Ordinarily, when I hear mention of Raven Symoné, the mere thought of her brings a warmly nostalgic smile to my face. I think of her precocious sass in those delightfully witty back-in-forth sparring sessions between Olivia Kendall and Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show. 

I recall her role as Raven Baxter on the seminal That’s So Raven; a show that basically redefined how the Disney Channel creates, markets, and packages teen idols. Raven Symoné was one of the few child stars that gave us no controversy; no rumored tales of bad behavior or salacious drug use.

That’s why it pains me to watch her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey.

In it, she details that she does not wish to be defined as an African American… just an American. Such a declaration is particularly troubling, especially considering her part within the most iconic Black family on television. She also distances herself from this rather awesome tweet which seemingly revealed her sexual identity. Raven Tweet I define myself as an African American woman and a Black feminist. I have yet to completely decipher my sexual orientation, but it can closely be identified as heterosexual. However, the labels I choose to describe my humanity are labels that I’ve considered for myself. I put the onus on others to consider their own. That’s why I’m not angry with Raven for disregarding her perceived African American and/or Black identity. Such an identity is fluid and interpretative.

But I have no qualms in sharing my discomfort over her refusal of Blackness, and embrace of allegedly colorblind distinguishers; a form of respectability politics that buttress the tragedy of Black denialism. Black denialism is an extension of respectability politics in that it conforms to the mainstream fiction of colorblindness. Colorblindness is a dangerous myth that, in the most extreme circumstance, enables institutionalized “race-neutral” legislation that disproportionately discriminates against people of color.

In her highly regarded, The New Jim Crow, legal scholar and civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander details how seemingly race-neutral and colorblind policies translate to racist and prejudicial practices; practices which are undermined by preconceived racial stereotypes and reinforced by mega media.

Aside from the systematic end, culturally, colorblindness disallows for necessary racial context within “polite” conversation. We’ve all been in these situations; the hesitancy to overtly mention racial descriptors such as “Black” or “African American,” but the relative ease, if not enthusiasm, when mentioning covert racialized terms such as “ghetto,” “ratchet,” or “thug.”

Colorblindness has thoroughly entered into racial discourse, with some (if not, most) hailing it as a victory in post-Civil Rights fervor. But, because it’s a myth, colorblindness has done little but shield racism and prejudice from public awareness, and impede racial justice initiatives and actions. Suddenly, it’s no longer politically savvy or socially acceptable to be pro-Black. But it’s okay to be for drug reform, criminal justice reform, and economic equality.

When talking race relations, one must be exact in the terminology they use. This burden is especially heavy for Black and Brown authors, bloggers, journalists, and academics. While white commentators certainly receive backlash when pushing a pro-Black agenda, they’re relatively free to express their pro-Black politic to widespread praise from white audiences who view them as bold for daring to make such “drastic” proclamations.

Olivia Cole, a white blogger, details how her privilege gives her insurmountable leverage within the space. Black people are not afforded the same luxuries. While whites with pro-Black agendas are viewed as vanguards, Blacks with the same pro-Black politic face immense reprisals if appearing too radical, or too … Black. For example, in writing my blog posts, I edit and re-edit my words so they aren’t charged with “reverse racism” (another fiction.) I’m also mindful of how my writing comes across to potential employers or other socioeconomic stakeholders. I’m also careful about how my pro-Black politic coincides with my white relationships.

On most occasions, those we herald as pro-Black leaders are viewed within a historical scope; their pasts whitewashed to fit into those two darling paragraphs in that outdated American History textbook. Self-policing, when fervent and frequent, leads to Black denialism. Out of fear of retribution, or in an intense desire to appear mainstream and socially acceptable, some Blacks adopt the colorblind fiction to such an extreme that they deny their own existence. And such is the case here. To me, Raven’s Black denialism is a hollow substance; one that speaks to centuries of oppression that’s been redesigned into decades of fictional racial progress. White supremacy has coerced her (and other non-whites like her) into believing that acknowledging racial heritage is an insult to American values; when, in truth, it’s the fabric that not only defines such values, but validates the very essence of what it means to be an American. photo 1Arielle Newton, Editor-in-Chief. Get at me @BlackMusings. Get at us @BlkMillennials.

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9 responses to “That’s So Raven: The Complicated Roots of Black Denialism

  1. Raven-Symoné Pearman is right to focus not on being black. Being colorblind actually helps create equality among different races, because people are then judged, as Dr. Martin L. King desired, on their character as opposed to their skin color.

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  2. I’ve heard both sides on this one… with people I know… and It’s not just a “denial” of one’s experience. It’s a “creation” of one’s experience. You see the denial of a historical experience but those “denials” are taken into consideration when one decides the box or label is limiting them… And ultimately, Raven is going to be boxed in by the community she doesn’t want to box her in via her announcement… so… while some people reap “benefits” going colorblind (and maybe that’s at the expense of everyone else…) they still have to deal with the same bullshit.

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  3. Good for Raven for expressing her hatred first from where she came from, her heritage and second her sexual orientation. If she’s not African-American or gay what the hell she is anyway? A human being? Come on, don’t make me laugh! But yes, she might sound alien for sure?

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    • She listed all these other races that she may not have a direct connection to either but failed to list african…I can name a number of ethnicities I can identify with also but I know I have a connection to africa…we all do, how can we deny it…idk she kinda put me off with that statement a little, I see where she’s coming from..but its almost like she wants to detach from Africa but yet leave asian indian and all these other races that she may be connected to as well remotely..

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      • Sure indeed! If like she feels like Africa is a hoodlum compared to Asia, India because it’s more “exotic” so she just feel ashamed of it, even thought Caucasians fucked Africa up big time over centuries, that means a lot of the lack of confidence and pride for herself. She says she’s “American” and “Human” but doesn’t know where her ancestors are coming from, that’s plain idiocracy. She will be clueless and incomplete for the rest of her life.

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  4. She Never Said She Wasn’t Black Though..
    Saying You’re African American Doesn’t Mean That You’re Black
    They’re African Americans who are not black .. People are blowing this out of proportion..

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