..And why her comments were in fact racist not just “discriminatory.”
Like most people I heard the comments Raven Symone made recently on the view stating she wouldn’t hire someone with a ghetto sounding name. Obviously this has cause a wave of backlash and only driven the wedge further between her and the black community. My initial reaction was one of anger. I was disgusted that a person of color with such a large public platform would use that platform to ridicule and belittle others with racist ideas. I definitely would like to cast her off the island but the more I thought about it my opinions slowly shifted.
I think racism is so deeply rooted in American culture it often takes on various forms and springs from unexpected places. Ravens comments were racist regardless of her own racial background. Describing the name as “ghetto” and the name “watermelondrea” strongly implied black Americans. The use of watermelon also had a decidedly racist undertone. She didn’t say Ming Lee, or Svetlana when giving an example of a non-traditional American name, she said Watermelondrea.
Yet still the reason I feel an impulse to temper my emotions and not go on the offense or verbally attack her is because basically I feel sorry for her. I empathize with what it must have been like being a black child star of such a magnitude. Hollywood is notoriously known for its stereotyping, and attempts to typecast black actors in very specific and often negative roles. Raven is also a lighter skinned black woman, and I have heard in interviews other actors of color comment on the difficulty getting cast if they weren’t very obviously of a certain racial/ethnic group.
Growing up constantly scrutinized for not just your actual talent but your blackness itself and how she should represent that couldn’t have been easy to deal with as a child, a time when most are still grasping at a sense of identity and where they fit in the world. I imagine because of her career she also was somewhat isolated growing up especially from other black people and depending on the nature of her limited interactions she probably formed some of the basis of her beliefs about herself and other black people.
Let’s not forget Raven is also a Disney kid. We have seen time and time again how the pressures of constantly portraying a squeaky clean public image has cause other teen stars to crack and rebel like Miley Cyrus, Lindsey Lohan, or Britney Spears. This casting off of labels, the things she says, and maybe even her look seem may be some kind of act of rebellion.
Does any of this excuse her behavior or offensive comments, not at all however I do think it’s something to consider before we “throw the baby out with the bath water.” I believe in compassion and honestly when you meet someone who is filled with peace, confidence, love, joy etc. their words reflect that. That kind of person, anyone they interact with will be left with a similar feeling.
Based on the kinds of things Raven says, I believe she doesn’t even need anyone else to try to make her feel terrible, she’s probably been doing that herself for a long time now.