Nothing frustrates me more than getting into a conversation about race and getting talked down by someone who says something like “Whatever, race is a distraction. We’re all human. We all bleed red!”
Race is uncomfortable for plenty of people to talk about, but it’s a theme that comes up every single day for some of us, especially if you’re not white. I’m black and there isn’t a single day that goes by where I just conveniently forget. I’m reminded when I look in the mirror, when I’m followed around in a store, and when I have to read another ridiculous news report about an unarmed black kid getting murdered.
It’s this hyperawareness that made me side eye Raven Symone the other day when she told Oprah in an interview that she didn’t want people to identify her as gay or African-American. Listen, I’m not part of the LGBTQ community so I have no place in that part of her argument, but I couldn’t help but side-eye at her bit about not wanting to be labeled as African-American because she doesn’t really know her roots.
“I’m tired of being labeled…I’m an American. I’m not an African-American. 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]? Isn’t that what America’s supposed to be?”
Before I blew a gasket wondering what on earth her “nice, interesting grade of hair” had to do with anything, I found out that Raven made an important clarification today: She still identifies as black.
“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.”
Okay, now I’m breathing a little easier, especially since I personally prefer to refer to myself as black as opposed to African-American. My reasoning is a little less symbolic than Raven’s: I just find it overly-clinical sounding and specific and I’d rather just be referred to as black.
Still, even though I admit to jumping the gun and assumed that Raven initially tried to distance herself from black identity, her statement can definitely be misunderstood by others as a call for people of color to stop focusing on their racial identity and see the “bigger picture” instead. That’s where the “we all bleed red” people come in, the ones who just wish I’d stop going on and on about being black and just remember that I’m a part of human race instead. Why? Because it makes them more comfortable than listening to my experiences with race!
What I don’t understand is how acknowledging my race is such a threat to my humanity. Why can’t I be black and human? Why is it that acknowledging my humanity means disregarding a part of my identity, a part of my identity that has a huge impact on my life?
Seriously, me going around saying “there’s only one race, the human race” isn’t going to ease the reality of being black chick in America. People aren’t going to stop being racist if I start spewing a bunch of idealistic nonsense. It’s just a false sense of security. Yes, race isn’t real, it’s a made up social construct, but it’s a social construct that is important in my life. When I was a pre-teen and wasn’t proud of being black I probably would have loved to spout all of this “we’re human! America is a melting pot!” stuff as opposed to actually embracing the black label. It’s a lot less scary and makes a lot of people more comfortable. This perspective made me a “safe” black girl that people didn’t have to worry about race around, but it was really just a way for me to avoid confronting my identity in a healthy way. Now that I’m proud to call myself black and I’m no longer tip toeing around the label, I’m suddenly part of the problem as to why racism is still an issue (which people have told me)? Because instead of identifying as human first I identify as black? Nah, I don’t buy that. I don’t think that that’s the way the world works.
What I’m really trying to say here is this: If you’re a marginalized person, whether it’s due to your race, gender sexuality, health, whatever, be proud of it! Because there are a lot of people out there who would feel more comfortable if you weren’t so that they don’t have to acknowledge the trials and tribulations you face. Save the “we’re all human, it doesn’t matter” stuff for an alien invasion instead.
Have people ever told you that you bring up race, gender, sexuality, etc too much? Have you ever been embarrassed of your identity? Tell us in the comments!