On Oprah, Raven-Symoné says she is not African American; she is American. She doesn’t want to be labeled gay. She prefers to be referred to as a “human who loves human.” Raven is not denying membership inside the race and queer boxes societies have built for her. Neither is she condemning the other labels. She is merely exercising her power to rename her identities—to enter and exit identities whenever she pleases. Rather than misread Raven’s ambition to open herself to wider senses of being, we might want to examine the new label box in which she is seeking refuge.
Here I refer to “human” as a label box, not to condemn Raven, but to suggest that all labels come with a baggage. We should consider that when we exchange labels we are merely shifting loads from one shoulder to the next. Indeed, we do have that right. I would even suggest that we should often times do so in order to trick our sensibilities to believe our load has grown lighter. To put it differently, we can trade a cup of coffee per day for five cups of green tea per day in order to get rid of our caffeine addiction. However, we must realize that we would then be consuming the same amount of caffeine from the five cups of green tea.
Calling oneself a “human” is another label. Its architecture houses the bricks and mortar of sexism. The patriarchal male is visibly present in “hu-MAN.” One might, however, suggest that the male is visibly present yet remains inactive in the word. Such a reading needs more scrutiny.
If the word “human” is supposed to become a site of refuge–a fleeing from the bridge of, for example, “African———American,” (a sturdy bridge designed to cross seas and link a diaspora to old and new histories since a culture was told it had no history)–then why can’t the refugees see the “Man” dominantly posing within the architecture of the word? Where is the question of—is this “new” identity-site safe when it holds baggages of brutal histories against women?
Raven sees the words “African-American” and “Gay,” and thus sees histories and presences that unsettle her; yet what has our world done to her that she cannot see the very ruins within “human’s” architecture in which she seeks security?
The Man is not only posing in “hu-Man, he is speaking subtly and thus dangerously. He isn’t screaming; he whispers to the subconscious—“hu-Man.” How can Raven and many others who take the humMan ferry, not see the Man posing and hear invisible women screaming in the backgrounds of its history?
I’m not condemning the word at all. But if “African-American” and “Gay” are to be questioned as to whether they are safe residencies (and they should always be questioned), then the purity, the morality, and the security of “human” needs to be reexamined.
I’d like to emphasize that I admire Raven for questioning the usefulness of identities. Her critics are wrong for suggesting she hates her race and her sexuality. Yet with my own admiration, I just worry about the suitableness of the geography to which she is fleeing. But then again, perhaps she isn’t fleeing; she is merely seeking temporary shelter, so that she can move in and out of identities, something I would encourage of my own self.