Coonin’ for Clicks: An Open Letter to Raven-Symoné

Dear Raven,

You good girl? Because lately, you’ve been in the spotlight for your less-than-smart comments on Black culture. When I first met you, you were a precocious toddler on The Cosby Show. Your quips were hilarious, your presence was powerful. And even though you lacked experience, your command against a seasoned television vet like Bill Cosby, was a brilliant indication of an imminent acting career.

After years of diligence, you were given your own show. That’s So Raven, ushered in a new format for Disney. Combining humor with singing, you were an iconic Disney star with crossover appeal. Without you, there would be no Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez. Without you, Disney would be a stale media imprint, instead of a behemoth for adolescent talent. Your work inspired Nickelodeon to pivot as well, with shows like Unfabulous, Drake and Josh, iCarly, and Tru Jackson VP all relying on pop-centric pubescents to augment the company’s bottom line.

Your bank account is a well-deserved measure of your labor. Rumor has it that you’re worth $55 million, catapulting you to the economic upper echelons of African American elite.

Oh, that’s right. You’re not African American.

Very rarely do I get into the complicated identity politics of Blackness because I know such a task, in its very essence, is immensely subjective. How one classifies their racial and ethnic identity is a laborious endeavor, replete with cultural, social, and political nuances that veer on the cusp of intangibility.

But, as a public figure, who has profited significantly on your perceived African American roots, your comments, to some, were offensive. After all, in your breakout role as Olivia Kendall, you paraded around in a dashiki, while in the home of a prominent African American doctor and lawyer. The Cosby Show, as a pop culture institution, never shied away from its African American heritage — an unapologetic racial declaration which made it the hit show that it was.

And there was your time on That’s So Raven, where you played the daughter of two African Americans. Such a heritage was a boon, with many praising the show for its diversity. You had no public problem with such a representation.

But now, when the cameras are gone and the career is cold, African American labeling causes you public and personal ire.

Ok.

In your proximity to whiteness, your racial and ethnic identity is open to ambiguity. But such racial ambivalence does not give you the luxury of disrespecting Blackness in the ways that you do. When you were on The View and said that comments comparing First Lady Michelle Obama to an ape weren’t racist, I saw a Black woman I once admired turn into an ignorant mess. “Some people just look like animals!” you said. “I look like a bird!” you said. Poor girl.

Perhaps you’re uninformed about the tragic trope of comparing Black folk to monkeys and apes. Gazi Kodzo checked you though.

That’s right Raven, girl. When white people stole Black folk from our native land, and forced us into slavery, they justified the entire enterprise by saying we were more “simian” than human in nature. This myth was spread and internalized in racist society via minstrel shows, propaganda, legislation, and socioeconomic institutions.

When Black women — our ancestors — were forcibly pinned down to medical tables, sterilized, and forced to endure atrocious pain while being cut open, their bodies were considered less than because medical professionals believed they were scientifically closer to monkeys than to humans, and were thereby expendable subjects for systematic genocide.

But ok. You don’t know this because you — like most of society — are victims of a white supremacist education system designed to completely erase Black folk outside the jarring confines of slavery and the sanitized depiction of the Civil Rights Movement.

Let’s move on to your latest stunt.

Girl. There’s only ONE African continent, and only ONE European continent. There’s no way in hell you don’t know this. Especially since your class privilege allows you to travel.

So here’s what I think is going on. You outchea coonin’ for clicks. Being a Black mockery keeps your name on our lips, and if leveraged right, could lead to profitable returns. After your comments to Oprah, you appeared on the hit show Empire and had a seat on The View, after all.

Raven, if this is what you’re doing — deliberately playing Raven The Coon to line up work — lemme be the first to tell you it’s a bad idea. The 15 minute boost jeopardizes your entire career by downplaying your acting brilliance in favor of salacious snippets of coonery.

So do yourself a favor and stop. Tell your publicist that you’re not an idiot and you don’t wanna play one of TV. Tell your marketing team to rebrand you as the free-spirited talent that you are. Tell your ancestors you’re sorry for disrespecting them.

And then read you some books — some really good books like this and this and this and this.

And remember I still love you. When I find myself wishing your vocal chords would permanently malfunction, I remind myself that silencing a Black woman is a terrible tool of white supremacy. I check myself; I work through my frustrations to love you dearly and unconditionally. Your Black skin carries centuries of abuse, and I know growing up a child star compounded such a history in ways I can’t begin to fully imagine.

So I’m still here for you. This letter is a labor of tough love. You need to get yourself together, and I’m here to help if you’re brave enough to admit you need it.

In Revolutionary Black Love,

Me.

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Black Millennials, Inc. is a reader-funded project for the cultural empowerment of Black and Brown 20somethings. Please donate to help us continue our work.

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photo 1Arielle Newton, Founder/Editor-in-Chief. Get at me @arielle_newton. Get at us @BlkMillennials.

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9 responses to “Coonin’ for Clicks: An Open Letter to Raven-Symoné

  1. Great piece! Clearly we fell in love with a fictional character. Disturbing and revealing to hear how she really thinks when she’s off script.

    Like

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