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Raven-Symoné doesn't want to be labeled, and I agree

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

I'm on board with Raven-Symoné: We shouldn't be defined by labels

Twitter has been set on fire and Raven-Symoné is the proverbial arsonist. How'd she do it? By sitting down with Oprah and eschewing labels such as "African-American" and "gay." Is that really so incendiary, though?

Last August, following the Supreme Court's ruling against the ban on same-sex marriage, Raven sent out a simple, but telling, tweet: "I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you."

Many who have long assumed Raven is gay took it as a public — albeit understated — affirmation.

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Oprah, who sat down with Raven as part of a Where Are They Now? child star segment, asked the That's So Raven star to clarify and, in keeping with the subtlety of the original text, Raven responded, "That was my way of saying I'm proud of the country. But, I will say that I'm in an amazing, happy relationship with my partner. A woman."

So, yes. Raven-Symoné is gay. But she doesn't necessarily want to be called that.

"I'm tired of being labeled. I'm an American," she went on to say. "I'm not an African-American. I'm an American."

Judging by the look of shock on Oprah's face and her proclamation of, "Oh, girl. Don't set Twitter on fire," Raven did, in fact, say something incendiary.

But, really, what's so wrong with what she said?

I'm sure that there will be those people who want to hear none of what I have to say because either they're so firmly planted in the belief that their point of view is right and Raven's is wrong or because I'm white and that somehow entitles me to less of an opinion on this subject.

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And I'm OK with that. Another beautiful thing about being an American is that we're all entitled to our opinions and to expressing them.

I think Raven's point of view is refreshing. I wish more people felt that way. If we didn't use labels so often to separate ourselves from one another, could we begin to bridge the gaps? That may be naive, but it seems like a good first step.

Reading through the Twitter feed in response to Raven's interview, I found plenty of derision aimed at people who would embrace such an idealistic notion.

This sketch circulating in response to Raven's segment lampoons the "new black" — a mentality Raven's critics clearly associate with the star.

Based on the drawing, the "new black" is a person who believes in non-violence and peace and in the premise that "we all bleed red" and "hate doesn't stop hate."

For this, they are lambasted for being "detached from reality."

But, you know, if believing those things — that we are essentially all the same and that hate truly doesn't stop hate — make me naive, I'm OK with that, too.

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For the record, I don't think Raven-Symoné was saying that her African-American heritage isn't important when she told Oprah, "I mean, I don't know where my roots go to. I don't know how far back they go... I don't know what country in Africa I'm from, but I do know that my roots are in Lousiana. I'm an American. And that's a colorless person."

There's just inherent honesty to what she said.

For Raven, her personal history and sense of self are rooted in this country — and this country doesn't have any one color or ethnicity or religion.

After all, we are Americans, aren't we? My ancestors came here from Germany, but people would probably look at me sideways if I called myself a German-American. Still, it doesn't mean I'm not proud of the culture from which my family came.

Just because Raven identifies with so many different kinds of people, it doesn't mean she identifies any less with her own race. I don't think she is diminishing what her ancestors went through. I think she is simply stating her truth.

I like her perspective... that those "labels" are only parts that contribute to the sum of who she is, but — individually — they don't define who she is as a person.

Besides, these labels don't seem to stretch in favor all the way across the board. Historically, African-Americans and gay people and women have fought against being placed in a social box. None of us want to be seen as different when it comes to our jobs or our abilities or having our strength quantified.

How is what Raven is saying so radically different than that? We're all the same. We should all be viewed as the same: humans. Humans who love humans, as she puts it.

Unfortunately, one glance at comment threads and Twitter feeds confirm that many people don't see it that way.

I can appreciate the dialogue, though. I think it's important. We may not all be on the same page, but at least we're reading the same book, right?

What I don't appreciate is the commentary that relies on ugliness instead of wit, crudeness instead of good intention. The name-calling. The people attacking Raven's career or her looks. The people dismissing those who agree with Raven as "sophomoric" and "overly idealistic" and "just dumb."

I have a label for those people... rude.

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