Don’t race to cultural conclusions


By Emma Goodwin

Martin Luther King Jr. may have had a dream, but Raven-Symoné has a vision. The child star, who rose to fame from roles in “The Cosby Show” and “That’s So Raven,” has recently come out in an interview with Oprah saying that she doesn’t identify as African-American. 

She said that she doesn’t wish to be labeled as African-American because her roots that she’s aware of come from Louisiana.

People everywhere were complaining about her stance, taking it as her disaffiliating from her race.

I believe that they’ve misunderstood, and I stand by what Raven-Symoné said.

Before writing me off, know that I understand that I’m white. But more importantly, I’m an American, just like Raven-Symoné, and just like many of you.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    This isn’t a conversation that should be limited to people who identify as African-American. It is way bigger than that narrow scope. It pertains to anyone who has any ounce of Americanism in their veins. 

    If you were born and raised in America, you can trace back your heritage to another country, unless you’re entirely Native American.

    America is a melting pot. We’re a combination of cultures that created something new. Whatever we are today is a mixture of Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas and probably even Antarctica (we have penguins in zoos, right?).

    Parts of traditions from other countries are incorporated into what are now considered American traditions. It’s nearly impossible to identify what all of the roots of various American customs are.

    Some hymns sung in Sunday church, such as “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” might have originated from songs created by African-American immigrants. You might go to Chipotle, Zorba’s or Panda Express for dinner, and at some point, long, long ago, aspects of those cuisines were authentically foreign.

    All of my ancestors came from somewhere in Europe — France and Germany, mostly. Yet, when someone asks me what my ethnicity is, I say I’m American.

    Look at the way that your heritage and familial history, if you can trace it, has influenced your upbringing. I’m not talking about skin color, but, rather, how African, Hispanic, Asian or European ancestors may have shaped your life.

    If I practiced French and German traditions or if I was a first or second-generation immigrant, I think I would be closer to earning the title of French- or German-American. But I’m not.

    European, African, Asian and other identifiers ascribed to people who have lived Americanized lifestyles are often far removed from the people who claim them. 

    Those who were born and raised here are all American, but there aren’t always extreme infusions of our heritage in our current lifestyles.

    I don’t choose to see my identification as American as a loss of culture from my French and German roots; I see it as a creation and celebration of new culture that we are all a part of.

    Yet we still seem to be so divided.

    Many people in this country talk about the differences between races. We complain that racism is still omnipresent today. And I’m not here to say if it is or is not, but if we want to start relieving the focus of race, then we need to stop placing distinguishers on what “kind” of American you are — whether we are African-American, Asian-American, etcetera.

    Raven-Symoné didn’t say she isn’t black; she said she is American. She doesn’t take credit for an African culture that has little impact on the way she identifies herself.

    What Raven-Symoné is saying is a deeper message about what it means to be equal. If you ask me, she carried over some of Raven Baxter’s fortune telling from “That’s So Raven” — she sees a world where labels don’t exist and you don’t have to say what type of American you are to be a part of the culture.

    There’s not one specific type of American, and labeling someone with a prefix that they aren’t always culturally in touch with — no matter the skin color — is something that perpetuates differences that we’ve been trying to abolish for decades. 

    We should all think more like Raven-Symoné and start recognizing our country and citizens as the creation of a shared culture. Americans should see each other as equal, and the way we label ourselves should reflect that.

    Emma is a sophomore in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].