Raven Symone and the New Negro Epidemic

by Michael Harriot

You can add former chubby-cheeked sweetheart Olivia from “The Cosby Show” to the growing list of celebrities sprinting away from their blackness at breakneck speed. Since Tiger Woods declared his “Caublinasian” roots (a hybrid of Caucasian, Black, Asian and self-hate) on Oprah over a decade ago, African Americans have watched an intermittent spate of celebrities eschew their blackness once they reached a certain level.

– After making millions in hip hop and R&B music consumed by Black audiences, superproducer Pharell confessed to Oprah that he is a “New Black.

  “The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation: it’s a mentality and it’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re going to be on.”

While discussing the middle class in an interview on CNN, Morgan Freeman said that he and Don Lemon were proof that race had nothing to do with income inequality.

Even the beautiful Zoe Saldana joined the fray when she garnered outrage for saying: “There is no such thing as people of color.”

One could spend hours dissecting the meaning and intent of each of these celebrity quotes, but during her interview with Raven Symone, the skilled media titan Oprah immediately knew what kind of outrage a statement like this could generate, and prodded Symone to retract or clarify her statement. Symone refused.

Symone: I don’t need language, I don’t need a categorized statement for it. I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay.’ I am a human who is human.

I’m tired of being labelled. I’m an American! I’m not an African-American. I’m an American.

Oprah: Oh Lord, girl! Don’t set this Twitter on fire. What did you just say??? [jokes] Stop the tape right now!

Symone: I will say this: I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go. I can’t go onya know… I don’t know how far back and I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from. But I do know my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American. And that’s a colorless person because we are all people.

I have lots of things running through my veins. I don’t label myself. What I mean by that is I’m an American. 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. Aren’t we all [a melting pot in one body]? Isn’t that what America is supposed to be? That’s what it’s supposed to be. I personally feel that way.

Immediately “black twitter” (Yes, apparently the fact that negroes have figured out a way to communicate with each other over the internet just like the smart white people is a “thing” now. I guess it’s like seeing a monkey use a calculator…) went nuts, throwing the Disney star under the bus as a turncoat and traitor, while a minority tried to defend her statement as understandable.

Here is the problem: There is a difference in being black, and being gay, bisexual or any other alternative lifestyle. The latter are personal matters one can choose to share with the world or keep private. The unique thing about blackness is that it is forever apparent and always knowable. African Americans don’t have the luxury of living a life, learning to place their race in a sociological context, dealing with it psychologically and THEN when they are comfortable enough with it, coming out of the closet and announcing they are Black. After earning millions of dollars and making it to a class of celebrity and wealth that transcends their cultural identity, it is easy for Symone, Williams, Freeman, et al. to declare themselves “human,” “American” and “unlabeled.” One should never decry their right to do so.

In casting off the labels of society, however, they must also accept one other fact: The people in the groups you nominally remove yourself from, have a right to resent you.

And they should.

When Symone says, “I don’t know how far back and I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from. But I do know my roots are in Louisiana” it is clear that she views her Louisiana history in a more positive light than her African heritage. She willfully embraces the diaspora of slaveowners, segregationists and Jim Crow while stiff-arming an “unknown” past that could be clarified with a 20-minute internet search or $300 from the purse filled with millions of dollars from little girls who idolized her when she was Disney’s multicultural money magnet. It is apparent that she doesn’t care to know.

People don’t have a problem with her embracing her humanity, but no one decries a label they approve of. If she was called “smart,” “talented” or even a “woman” she wouldn’t whimper – but that “B-word” – will elicit a quick interjection from the “New Negro” celebrity. They quickly point out that they are .0000083% Cherokee, or their great, great grandmother was almost Irish. The only logical takeaway is: Black is bad. All that other stuff that dilutes their Africanism – it is good. When one fixes a glass of Jack Daniels, Coca-Cola and ice, and someone asks what you are drinking, the correct answer is “Whiskey.”

No one cares about the recipe.

Unfortunately there is only one way these superstars will realize the reality of their blackness: Falling off their pedestals. When Tiger Woods’ iconic rise to the top of golf history stalled and then plummeted, he quickly learned which box he was in. When Pharell’s run with feel-good, catchy pop tunes ends (as it always invariably does) he will return to his “n-word” spouting roots with the likes of Clipse and T.I. Let Zoe get a few wrinkles or gain a few pounds – she’ll be a woman of color then.

Until then, we’ll just wait for the next African American artist to unshackle themselves from the Blackness as they catapult towards superstardom. We expect it, now. In fact, there’s a new term we use when we see it happen:

“That’s SO Raven.”

Michael Harriot is a journalist, poet and host of the popular podcast The Black One as well as the cohost of The StayWoke Show web series. Find out more about Michael at www.michaelharriot.com

twitter: Michaelharriot
instagram: michaelharriot

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15 thoughts on “Raven Symone and the New Negro Epidemic

  1. Excellent commentary on this “New Negro” phenomenon. So tired o f this excessive narcissism and disdain for our heritage.

  2. Hopefully they won’t have to repeat there past for forgetting it. Or see themselves behind glass, next to the wooly mammoth.

  3. The best play available to minorities is indeed, to act like they are not minorities. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but in the United States, there is no better “assimilation” strategy. The Irish did it. Eastern Europeans did it. Jews did it. Hispanics are currently doing it.

    The United States hates real history, and the United States especially hates history that reminds it of how terrible its history really is. Currently, the only accord possible is “let bygones be bygones.” And if you conform and behave just so, in about 60 years, your lot in life will improve. During that time, however, it will be you putting a smile on your face and outright ignoring injustice.

    Certain groups were poised to have an easier time doing this than others; say, groups who were fresh off the boat versus those who had been in chains for centuries prior.

    As you say, the individuals most professing these “post-racial ideas” are individuals who have amassed great wealth. And ultimately, whether anyone wants to believe me or not, economics is the root issue. MLK was a great man…until he started raising important questions about wealth.

    Much better to never let anyone forget anything. The only thing in this country should be proud of is the first amendment, and the only time to feel patriotic is when someone burns the flag. Speak up and give a voice to your situation; it’s the only way this country can work. It’s not working because people are afraid to speak up.

  4. “When one fixes a glass of Jack Daniels, Coca-Cola and ice, and someone asks what you are drinking, the correct answer is “Whiskey.”

    No one cares about the recipe.”

    Nailed it again. Awesome work.

  5. I’m curious how many people would have joined you in that street. I’m even more curious how many people would have already been in the street when you got there how many people would have started and not waited for you? You would have had to join me in the street because I would already have been there. And as Richard Pryor says, “and that’s why I’m in the shape I’m in today.”

  6. What does it mean if a white person only identifies as a human and not as a particular race?
    Anyone can have an opinion of why someone thinks/feels the way they do. But only an opinion. It IS a mind set that you put yourself in. But it doesn’t mean you reject your past. For me, it is a spiritual quest. To move away from what society puts labels on (which can be very negative and unhealthy.) Aren’t we all children of God after all? (I think so) You have to make piece with who you are, for your sake. No one has walked in your shoes but you. Our purpose is to Glorify God. My opinion is, that’s harder to do when you look at people as other than, Gods people.
    ♡Blessings to you.

  7. My mother is white and my father is black. Am I supposed to identify myself as white or black? I bet if I said white all you black racists out there would cry and complain. If I identify myself as black, white people could care less. It seems my black brothers and sisters are more racist than my white brothers and sisters. I’m an American, who cares what color I am or where my certain members of my family are from originally. I’m here now… I never hear white people say things like, “I’m European American and proud”. They just say american. My fellow black Americans need to get with the times.

  8. I am a White-Hispanic woman and I recently started dating an incredible, stunning dark-skinned Black man. I am completely infatuated and already quite invested in the relationship, as is he. But I am concerned that he is partially dating me out of self-hate. He has almost exclusively white friends and ‘white interests’ (snowboarding, etc.). He also thinks “All Lives Matter”, which bothers me greatly. I am so confused. He is this confident, beautiful man, yet I want to fight for his life more than he does? How am I the radical here, chanting “Black Lives Matter”? How did that happen? I have no idea how to broach this topic with him without offending him. Any advice?

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