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Raven Symoné, African-American & the Post-Race Millenial

Back in May, Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece on Slate.com about Millenials lack of understanding of racism. Millenials, as in us, the generation that reached adulthood in these beginning of years of the 21st Century. Those of us who casted our first vote in the democratic system of the United States to herald in the first Black president. That same presidency according to some signifying the beginnings or maybe the precipice of the post-race era. And here we are…

Millennials see racism as a matter of different treatment, justified by race, that you solve by removing race from the equation.

– Jamelle Bouie, Slate.

But that equation solves nothing as Bouie concluded that “a generation that hates racism but chooses colorblindness is a generation that, through its neglect, comes to perpetuate it.” It’s also worth nothing that a few months later in July, Slate also published a piece by Aisha Harris, where she eschews the African American identity instead opting to identify as Black American.

Where I’m from is America—who I am is a black American.

Aisha Harris, Slate

Harris counters that her experience with first and second generation African immigrants in America made her question her own cultural connection to Africa in comparison to their immediate connections to the continent. “To me, people with such explicit connections to their relatives’ home countries accurately embody the term; they truly have access to both cultures,” as Harris continues to point out that she is more in line with the “black American” culture and her only connection to Africa is through the American sensibility. In my own bubble, my video on Africans vs. African-Americans where the comment section is the gift that keeps on giving even when you are entirely over it, there’s been a common sentiment of people wishing to identify as Black- even pushing away the American identity. There have been those with direct connections to Africa who feel that Black Americans have no right to tie themselves to an African identity. Just as some actual Black Americans agree, most echoing a sentiment that the slave trade was hundreds of years ago and those of us in America either have no substantial unifying culture or that culture has been so infiltrated by American culture(s) blurring the connection to Africa.

Now here we are, where in the past week Raven Symoné spoke about having similar sentiments with Oprah on OWN’s Where Are They Now? 

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

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 on…ya 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.

I do not agree. It does not bother me when one chooses to identify as Black American over African-American. What does bother me is the argument against the label. As though we are so far removed from the culture of the largely West African lands that our ancestors were taken from. The slave trade legally ended in 1807. However the last slave ship came to the United States of America, in 1859, smuggling the African slaves into Mobile, Alabama. That’s 155 years out from a direct connection to Africa. So for those who think slavery occurred hundred(s) of years ago, by technicality you can pluralize the hundred, by the facts of American history it was not that long ago. For context my great-grandmother (my Mother’s mother’s mother) was born in 1904. Her mother could be my direct link to Africa, putting me at a great-great grandparent, four generations ago. If we want to get technical about the “African-ness” of African-Americans and the term itself…most people from the African continent will identify themselves along their country or ethnic group lines. Nigerian-American or Ghanian-American, as African is a very broad term encompassing 54 countries without even touching the plethora of ethnic groups that exist in Africa. People often refer to themselves as African for the sake of the American ignorance, because having to explain where Malawi is or how people in Guinea do wear clothes not leaves, can be draining, annoying and offensive. It’s suppose to be a board term because most of us who can trace our ancestry back to the slave trade are a mix of African ethnic groups. Interracial marriage just became legal in America in 1967. So for the last slaves to arrive here 155 years ago, we had about 108 years that allowed for a good bit of homogeny to exist in the Black community, where cultures that infused with traits of the African diaspora are passed down through generations.

What’s most interesting is how Raven pointed to her feeling a connection to her Louisiana roots. Historically, Blacks in Louisiana hold tight to some of the strongest cultural connections to the trans-Atlantic loop of the African diaspora, due to having some of the harshest climates for slaves in America, where the lines of segregation are drawn deep even in the present tense. The foods, the language, the accent just as much as it was touched by the French colonizers, in the Black community carries vivid colors of West African culture. Flash of the Spirit, by Robert Harris Thompson, examines how five civilizations in Africa have most impacted African-American culture. Thompson draws a direct connection between jazz and funk music as an etymology of the Bakongo people.

In the South of the United States, important Ki-Kongo words and concepts influenced black English, especially the lexicons of jazz and the blues…

Robert Harris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit

Thompson breaks down the etymology of the terms jazz and funk showing the direct connections to the language of the Bakongo people. The Sankofa symbols in fences and bottle trees in front yards warding away bad spirits are relics of our African ancestors. Remember the opening scenes of the Ray Charles biopic, where a bottle tree sways in the winds of his childhood home, again a cultural connection to the Bakongo people. Our culture, as African-Americans, has clear and strong remnants of the lands we were taken from.

What Raven is trying to do is what Bouie pointed out can not work, trying to push away racism, remove oneself from the claws of prejudice because they think people do not see them as human. As if removing a single label will resolve the issues that are at the base of racism. The idea that a post-race society that does not talk about race will resolve the issue of “race”-ism is a utopian ideal that fails before it even gets off the ground. The label is not what leaves Mike Brown dead cold in the middle of the street, it’s not what allows politicians to run on campaigns of mythological Welfare Queens or what keeps the Tea Party actively trying to diminish Barack Obama’s legacy. It’s not what makes us question how we got to 2014 and we still have issues like #Ferguson,  watermelon cartoons about Black politicians running or New York Times questioning the beauty of a Black lead lady. Whether we are called colored, negro, Afro or African American, it does not change how we are seen with the physical eye by White humans, who because we as millenials are actively trying to avoid the topics of race relations, are sweeping their bigotry under the rug. That is the same rug we use to cloak our self in the fuzzy warm feeling of being human. It doesn’t work like that my dear.

If we want to be seen as humans, we should be allowed to hold on to our cultural connections just as much as our European peers. They are not disavowing their brethen the right to be human, because they are Italian-American. Albeit Italian-American and Irish-American people went through periods of prejudice, they didn’t resolve the prejudice by ridding themselves of their cultural connectors. Just as they are entitled to cultural pride, I am entitled to mine. I am proud to be African-American, even as I reside in Houston, otherwise known as little Biafra. Because when my Nigerian-American peers try to rewrite my personal history as a girl from Owerri, I laugh and enjoy the banter while discovering the connections of my culture to the motherland.

Jouelzy

The author Jouelzy

Jouelzy is a #SmartBrownGirl, Author, Vlogger & Writer, addressing lifestyle issues that impact women of color from beauty, culture to technology. With 162k+ subscribers she's reshaping the image of women of color, who honor their right to revel in their diversity. Find her on Twitter Shop #SmartBrownGirl