The entire country has been up in arms over the video that went viral this week showing burly Deputy Ben Fields tossing a 16-year-old black girl from her desk at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. While discussing the matter on The View, always-controversial co-host Raven-Symone attracted the ire of social media after she admonished the girl for reportedly being on her phone when the teacher requested her to put it away.
Raven-Symone claimed that there were “two wrongs” displayed in the video, articulating her perspective thusly: “The girl was told many times to get off the phone. There’s no right or cause for him to be inflicting this type of harm, that’s insane.
But at the same time, you gotta follow the rules in school. First of all, why are there cell phones at school? This shouldn’t even be a problem, to begin with, and he shouldn’t have been acting like that on top of it.”
After it was pointed out that not only was the force unjustified, but Shields had a history of boorish behavior on the job, Raven maintained that the girl should not have been on the phone.
“He was actually sued for false arrest, excessive force, and battery in 2007 when a couple accused him of manhandling them. He has a record and he’s still hired—but at the same time, get off the yo’ phone. You’re in school. Get off the yo’ phone! What are you doing on Instagram?”
The co-hosts then tossed around a few lines about young people and their lack of regard for authority—because there was never a bratty youngster before the iPhone, supposedly.
But her reaction to the incident—which she repeated thrice and earned applause from the audience—reveals that Raven-Symone doesn’t realize that a non-cooperative teenager doesn’t require harsh punishment.
There was no physical altercation going on until Deputy Ben Fields launched one. I kept hearing her comments and wondered how little empathy one would have for a teenage girl to think she would deserve being physically assaulted for not putting her phone away.
But Raven-Symone has continually proven how little empathy she has for black folks.
This new scandal comes only weeks after Raven-Symone said that she wouldn’t hire someone if they had a “ghetto” name. While distinguishing between what she thought “discriminatory” but not “racist,” she stated that “I’m not going to hire you if your name is ‘Watermelondrea.’ It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.”
After Univision host Rodner Figueroa made a racist joke about Michelle Obama joining the cast of Planet of the Apes, Raven-Symone pondered aloud whether the quip was “racist-like.” “Was he saying it racist-like? Because he mentioned that he voted for her later, and I don’t think he was saying it racist,” Raven added.
“Michelle, don’t fire me from this right now, but some folks look like beasts. I look like a bird. So can I be offended if somebody calls me Toucan Sam?” Earlier this year, Raven-Symone made it known that she was uneasy with the concept of Harriet Tubman being considered for the $20 bill.
“No offense to everyone who’s going to be furious at me for saying this: I don’t like that idea. I don’t like it… I think we need to go a little bit forward. Let me just preface [by stating], I understand the history. I got it, trust me. I was taught, that I’m in that culture.
But there’s also Wilma Mankiller, there’s also Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman… Personally, I would’ve chosen Rosa Parks. I would have chosen someone that is closer to the progression that we’re doing now.”
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So again—Raven-Symone’s behavior prompts the question: Who does Raven-Symone think she is?
That’s not an irate, rhetorical question—like, “How dare she?” That’s a real, concerned query on how the former child star turned Disney maven turned View co-host perceives herself. Who does she believe Raven-Symone is?
Does she not think Raven-Symone is a black woman? Does she not perceive herself as a performer who has been and would be routinely ostracized because she doesn’t fit into predefined white, straight ideals so pervasive in both Hollywood and society? She’s been working in Hollywood since she was 3 years old, so Raven-Symone has to know the sting of professional prejudice on some level or another.
How can 17-year-old Amandla Stenberg have a better sense of what it means to be a young black girl in a world that doesn’t appreciate young black girls? Maybe Raven-Symone persuaded of her own exceptionalism, has been lulled into thinking that becoming a superstar to young people all over the world happened because racism isn’t that big a concern today.
Maybe she doesn’t fully comprehend that there wasn’t a torrent of “next Ravens” being churned out by networks since Hollywood will always rather market white faces.
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In the early 2000s, an era of adolescent idols in the spirit of Hillary Duff and the Olsen Twins, Raven-Symone was a barrier breaker as That’s So Raven became Disney’s longest-running original series at the time.
She became one of the most bankable stars in the Disney universe as an African-American, thicker-than-your-average teenage celebrity. With her hit show, her albums, and the Cheetah Girls brand, Raven-Symone created a template for Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers to follow—which Cyrus parlayed into success with Hannah Montana before breaking out to become a major pop singer.
Were those opportunities ever there for Raven-Symone? Does she ever wonder how her career would’ve grown if she’d been a waifish white girl that had Disney’s most successful show, Eddie Murphy movies on her résumé, and a career that went all the way back to 1989?
Maybe she thinks it’s moral to not dwell on what may have been. But her opinions on race show she’s in absolute denial; outside her own career, Raven-Symone doesn’t appear to understand how racism influences American society and culture.
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She works like a person convinced that not perceiving racism is all that it takes for black achievement. She doesn’t grasp it and she doesn’t empathize. And through that, she distances herself from blackness.
Raven notably told Oprah in 2014 that she avoids labels. At the time, she had stated that she was in a relationship with a woman—former America’s Next Top Model competitor AzMarie Livingston—but she didn’t want to be called “gay” or even “African-American.”
“I’m tired of being labeled,” Raven stated at the time. “I’m an American. I’m not an African-American—I’m American.”
“I will say this. I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go,” she added. “I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from, but I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m American. And that’s a colorless individual.
I don’t label myself. I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasians. I connect with Asians. I connect with black. I connect with Indians. I identify with each culture.”
She later “defended” her words. “I never said I wasn’t black. I said I wasn’t African-American. To me, that’s a difference. Thank you to Ancestry.com, indeed, for sending me my DNA test.
I am from every continent in Africa, except for one. And I am from every continent in Europe, save for one. And for the last 400 years, my family has been living in Virginia. How long do you have to be in one country before you’re that?”
Raven-Symone cherishes her Americanness. America made her wealthy and famous. But America also marginalizes her. If she wasn’t a popular television actress, she’d have been the girl scrutinized for her “unusual” hair and “non-traditional” name.
She’d be stared at for walking down the street holding her girlfriend’s hand. She’d be another. It’s so unfortunate that she seems to be so keen on alienating herself from the folks who relate to her the most. She should see herself in them.
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