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November 05, 2015

An open letter to Raven-Symoné

Growing up with you on TV doesn’t mean I know you, or your opinions

Dear Raven-Symoné,

There’s no doubt that so many stones have been thrown at you that you could build a mansion. My hope is that this letter serves as a door.

I am African-American, and yes, I recognize that you no longer identify as African-American. So I want to make it clear: if at any point I refer to you as my “sister” in this letter, it is simply to acknowledge that you are a fellow woman, and a woman of color especially. I’ve observed that people have attempted to “read” your life like a book without ever having flipped through your pages. 

Growing up with you on TV doesn’t mean I know you.

Being a fellow woman of color doesn’t mean I know you.

Being a fellow millennial doesn’t mean I know you.

I’ve listened to what you’ve said about your label preferences, ghetto names and the Spring Valley incident. I’ve read and heard opinions from others about your words and I feel some were missing a little perspective. I speak to you now about these things not necessarily to defend you, because I’m a 27-year-old grown a** woman and the only time I would ever let someone else speak for me is in a courtroom. So I won’t dare, nor will I attempt to, offer the following viewpoints for you as such. 

I’m just a sister whose been watching the journey of another and remaining relatively silent -- until now.

No African, Just American 

Clearly you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

Am I hurt that you no longer identify as an African-American? The better question is: does it affect the fact I AM and that I will teach my children to be proud of that identity? Hell no. So sister, be great. Whatever answer it is that you’re on the journey to find, I wish you well. 

What I will not do is teach women and girls, especially women of color, to speak against another who doesn’t think or feel like they do. What I will not do is stand for women’s empowerment and owning your individual voice, and then attack you for expressing your sense of empowerment and owning your voice. That would be hypocritical and do more harm than your decision to reject a label. Because, let’s be clear: it is a label created by the government that has been debated even among the African-American/Black community. There’s yet to be a sound consensus among us.

You’re a woman of color on "The View" and you work in one of the most polarized and vicious industries (and have been since you were 2), so quite honestly, your decision isn’t a bone that I’m informed enough to pick. My only hope is that you continue to open doors that others won’t for talented women who share that same degree of melanin with you, and never discriminate against those who do identify as African-American/Black. 

Ghetto Names & Hiring Games

There are elders in the African-American community in particular who moaned like hell when the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers took naming our children to a whole new level of creativity. I recall very clearly hearing how, “that baby won’t be able to work nowhere, but McDonald’s with a name like that” or “y’all setting us back with these names! What the hell is a Shaquan or Shaniqua?” 

I know African-American women who go by their middle name because they don’t like their first name, and African-American women who wear their “ghetto” name proud as hell. The point is: when you said what you said, it was tied to a valid viewpoint that exists within our community. But no one spoke to that point in particular. 

I’ve been exposed to this kind of thinking as expressed by some of our elders along with the discrimination running rampant in this country; I understand how you arrived at your mentality. Unfortunately, you vocalized something that was tied to discussions held in the confines of our homes and families and openly elected to discriminate as well. I caution you to be careful with that; Shaquan may be an expert accountant and also have a connection to quality priced, high premium Brazilian bundles. A name doesn’t define a person’s character or capabilities. 

Spring Valley Sprung Her

You weren’t the only person of color who felt what you expressed. Although I disagreed with where you put much of your emphasis and focus, I respected it because you did what a person on that panel is supposed to do: give your view. 

As a mother, an African-American woman and a person who works with youth, I think it can be a dangerous, slippery slope that redirects the focus (in this particular situation) off the brutal actions of an adult, male officer and the other adult(s) present in that room. However, you have free speech and you used it. I have a remote control and I flip the channel just as often as you change your hair. Coincidentally, there was a woman who was not of color whose view more closely aligned with mine, and in that moment, the only thing that mattered was that my view had been fairly represented.

Thank you for standing in your truth and challenging what some believe a woman of color should stand for. Beliefs are meant to be tested, and this has been a test for everyone who thought that, just because you are of color, you’d automatically take a certain position on all of the aforementioned issues.

May we collectively be more conscious of what we think, how we express it, and what we’re ultimately led to act on. Continue to walk in your truth, seek the light and recognize you are a light as well. With that comes great responsibility and great power.

In the meantime, I encourage you to empathize with others, empower them and yourself along the way, and always, always, always evolve into your greatest self.