Labels are not so Raven: Actress dismisses racial, sexuality issues
On Oct. 5, actress Raven Symoné shocked the public in just two minutes of interview on Oprah Winfrey’s “WHere Are They Now” show when she took a liberal stance against labels, specifically “gay” and “African-American.” Although these controversial remarks are progressively valid in themselves, they are out of place in our current culture.
Symoné’s latest interview with Winfrey took a controversial turn when the former Disney star declared that she does not want to be labeled as “gay,” despite being in an openly same-sex relationship with American fashion model AzMarie Livingston.
“I don’t need a categorized statement for it,” Symoné said. “I want to be labeled a human who loves humans.”
Because of the fluidity of sexuality, many people before her and even fellow celebrities, including English Olympic diver Tom Daley, have also rejected the “gay” label. Hopefully, the not-so-open minded will then be prompted into accepting a new, less strict view on the subject.
Physics freshman Richard Kemp, a current member of the fraternity Delta Lambda Phi that “seeks to foster brotherhood between men regardless of sexual orientation,” said he believes sexuality can’t be summed up simplistically.
“(Sexuality) isn’t clear-cut or black and white,” Kemp said. “A label is just a nice way to communicate to other people some facsimile of their sexuality.”
Being forced into strictly labeled boxes confines people into social norms and expectations that prevent self-growth, self-exploration and ultimately self-acceptance. There is an ever-present self-consciousness attached to sexuality that can potentially be the root of homophobia toward others and even one’s self.
Embracing homosexuality in our culture is an achievement for the LGBT community, but if instead we were to push the view of sexuality as fluid, then hate crimes, sexual discrimination and suicides revolving around sexuality would decrease, and overall social acceptance would increase — at least, in theory.
According to UH’s online records, in the Fall 2012, 4,598 African-American students enrolled to the school.
Additionally, a 2011 study by the Williams Institute’s showed that 3.5 percent of the American population is lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Though these numbers may seem meaningful in certain respects, they’re actually nothing more than labels; yet the fact remains that labels are a relatively necessary custom. Computer information systems freshman Christopher Robinson said he believes labels are useful in society.
“Labels can be used to hurt people, but they are also useful descriptors,” Robinson said. “Labels exist to define a sub-part of a whole, and a lack of labels for distinct sexualities would mean that there are no distinct sexualities.”
It’s pretty clear that we’re far from a label-less world, and although such a concept might seem ideal, society as a whole isn’t ready yet.
“In our society, we’re dependent upon labels, and if we suddenly stopped using them, it would be chaotic,” said art freshman Sydney Starnes. “But the idea of a world that just started without labels, I think that would be cool.”
The words that came out of Symoné’s mouth next were far more problematic and were received with great anger and ill support, as controversy instantly flooded social media.
“I’m an American. I’m not an African-American,” Symoné said. “I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person because we are all people.”
Many claim that Symoné is doing more than simply rejecting a label; she’s completely ignoring the pre-established system of racism in our country.
“To ignore the trappings that come with the concept of race and color of skin would be to ignore the fact that racism, both institutional and personal, is still a huge problem. The recent and ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri are a clear example of the lack of ‘colorblindness’ that exists today.”
-Richard Kemp, on Raven Symone’s comments regarding race and sexuality.
“To ignore the trappings that come with the concept of race and color of skin would be to ignore the fact that racism, both institutional and personal, is still a huge problem,” Kemp said. “The recent and ongoing events in Ferguson, Mo. are a clear example of the lack of ‘colorblindness’ that exists today.”
Symoné’s no-labels ideology is not flawed in itself, but society is simply not ready for such a liberal step. If this nation were truly one of colorblindness, then the rejection of labels would not come as such an issue, as long as people were still encouraged to celebrate their differences.
Unfortunately, the United States is clearly still racially, sexually and even religiously discriminatory. This country’s dependency on labels is not what makes it discriminatory; the U.S. has become dependent on labels because it generates them.
Pretending our country is as socially advanced as we would like it to be is not solving this issue, but simply ignoring it.
“While we shouldn’t let these designations separate us, they still need to be recognized as a factor in the way people are treated and allowed to live their lives,” Kemp said.
Before completely obliterating labels, we must focus first on destroying our need for them. We must begin by attacking our flawed social structure.
Only then will we truly be a colorblind nation, with the ability to become truly label-less.
Editor’s note: Richard Kemp was previously identified as the founder of Delta Lambda Phi. This is not true; Kemp simply hopes to bring Delta Lambda Phi to UH soon.
Opinion columnist Natalia Marfil is a creative writing freshman and may be reached at [email protected]