The Problem with Raven Symone
One of my favorite sayings is: “Better to be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” If you’ve been keeping a scorecard of all the asinine things child star Raven Symone has been saying lately, you would agree she removed all doubt.
I like Symone. I’m a fan of her work, but lately it’s been hard to support her outside of the guest starring roles she’s had on some of my favorite primetime television shows.
The actress is currently guest co-hosting on The View and reports are swirling show producers want her permanently. This would be a good look for Symone, but her recent public statements on race, sexuality—all fare ground for the show’s signature Hot Topics—there’s a chance she’ll be using the platform to become the Black Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
Could this be why Symone has become a favorite with producers? Aside from being known as the adorable Olivia on The Cosby Show—who later became an all-knowing child oracle for our favorite Instagram memes and the irony totes the real, more older Symone’s opinions are anything but. The actress seems to go out of her way to distance herself from labels and controversial issues that directly impact and umm, are killing those in her generation.
It all started this past October when Symone sat down for an interview on Oprah: Where Are They Now? The former child star made a bold statement to Oprah about not wanting to be labeled an African-American.
“I’m an American. I’m not an African-American.” Simon told Oprah. I don’t know where my roots go to. 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 because we are all people. I have lots of things running through my veins…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.”
If that weren’t enough, she also made it known she doesn’t want to be called gay.
“I don’t want to be labeled gay. I want to be labeled a human who loves humans.”
Symone is 29-years-old and whether she wants to admit it or not, she is B-L-A-C-K and G-A-Y. With so much racial unrest currently taking place in this country— from the murder of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson and the recent unlawful arrest and murder of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore, it won’t do Symone any good to sit at The View’s table with the mindset that she’s not a part of this conversation.
“It’s fascinating for someone who doesn’t consider herself to be an “African-American” Symone is guest starring on all the African-American shows.”
The Black Lives Matter movement is showing no signs of slowing down and if Symone can’t even see that referring to our Black First Lady, or any Black person in general, as an ape, is racist, then she has a long way to go.
We can add Symone’s comments to the list of reasons why we shouldn’t pressure celebrities to openly speak out on social issues. If they don’t have anything valuable to add to the conversation, it’s best to keep their mouths closed.
I also don’t like to believe that just because a Black person is wealthy and has privilege, it automatically means they’re out of touch. Symone is a Black actress in Hollywood. We all know the playing field is not the same. Surely, she’s witnessed what her peers go through to earn roles and how Black actresses and actors are often passed up for roles by movie studios who don’t believe Black casts can be lucrative at the box office or be valuable overseas.
Recently the American Civil Liberties Union called for a federal investigation into discrimination against female directors in Hollywood. The unbalanced scales on race and gender in Hollywood are a known issue and everyone’s speaking out from Rita Wilson to John Legend.
It’s fascinating for someone who doesn’t consider herself to be an “African-American” Symone is guest starring on all the African-American shows like Empire and Black-ish. If she appears on the next season of Being Mary Jane, Symone would have walked the Holy Grail of Black popular TV. We certainly don’t see Symone cast as the advice-toting Black bestie on Nashville or The Big Bang Theory.
For so long, Symone was heralded for being one of the few child stars who made a seamless transition to adulthood absent of scandal. There were no arrests. Her family life was in tact. And you’ve never seen her drunk or falling out of a club. You would never believe this was a young woman who was once roomies with Lindsay Lohan.
But now, Symone has become one of those Black people who exclusively exists for the sole purpose of creating buzz-worthy polarization. She’s not original, honest or inherently millennial. Her views are more southern pre-civil rights, than a young and cool representation we would think the seemingly progressive ‘View’—who’s struggling for ratings— would be invested in.
Eighties babies grew up watching Symone on The Cosby Show, in her teen years, she starred on her own Disney sitcom That’s So Raven and The Cheetah Girls movies. Some of us might even remember her as Nicole on the sitcom Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper.
Symone has a place in America’s heart and Black America’s kitchen table and no one wants to see her become the new Stacey Dash. When’s the last time you’ve seen Stacey Dash around Black people? When’s the last time you’ve seen Stacey Dash in a movie geared towards a Black audience? When’s the last time you’ve seen Stacey Dash in a movie? Right.
Dash has been relegated to being a FOX News talking head that spits unsubstantiated commentary out the side of her right neck. Who wants this for grown-up Olivia?
Since declaring she’s not African-American, there’s been a string of embarrassing gaffes leaving us all in an endless blank stare. In case you missed any of these moments, here’s a timeline of #Ravenisms:
March 2015: In an interview with E!, Symone said she searched her ancestry on ancestry.com and lo and behold she revealed, “I’m from every continent in Africa except one.”
Now when I first read this statement, a part of me was so sure Symone would hop on social media and say she misspoke or tweet a joke about it. But she did none of the above.
March 2015: While guest hosting on The View, Symone defended comments made by former Univision host Rodner Figueroa after he said First Lady Michelle Obama should have been casted in Planet of the Apes.
“But was he [Figueroa] saying it racist-like?” Symone asks. “Because Figueroa did say he voted for Obama later and I don’t think he was saying it racist. Not Michelle…but some people look like animals. I look like a bird, so can I be mad if somebody calls me Toucan Sam?”
Yes, you can, ma’am! I don’t know what type of homeschooling Symone had, but I thought it was universal knowledge comparing a Black person to an ape is beyond stupid thanks to the myth’s plentiful historically racist connotations.
Symone later caved to criticism and attempted to clarify her comments stating, “I don’t think I was defending. I think he got fired for a reason. It was very distasteful what he said, it was very distasteful. And I don’t believe she looks like one at all. I don’t believe she should’ve been casted, but I do know that a lot of people I know have animal traits.”
She basically stood by her statements that Figueroa’s comment was not racist.
Today, May 13, 2015: While guest co-hosting on The View, and speaking on Harriet Tubman being voted to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Symone said she would prefer Rosa Parks over Tubman because Parks is more “current,” as if Tubman’s tireless work and contributions to Black America and America in general hasn’t earned her the right.
Despite the social media outcry on Symone’s constant gaffes, it does beg the question: Are Black millennials more tolerant or unbothered about race?
If someone asked me the question before the murders of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, I probably would have said my generation leans on the side of tolerance.
But with the sudden rise of highly publicized police killings of innocent and unarmed Black girls and boys, and the growing Black Lives Matter movement, young Black millennial leaders have stepped up and proven they’re not only intolerant, but they will use every available platform to fight against any injustice—systemic sexism and inter-racial misogyny included.
The racial unrest in the country isn’t going anywhere anytime soon—specifically with an impending murder trail for the officers charged for Gray’s death in Baltimore. Would it hurt The View’s producers to insist Symone brushed up on newsworthy issues that matter, geography and just everything, with a little pre-show research to boot, before taking a front and center seat before of all the world and repping my generation by default?
I guess it is.