I use to work for an Afrocentric social service agency prior to full time pastoring. And at my work location there was a retired black man that often was out in the neighborhood when I arrived to or left from work. He had been in the community long enough to know the happenings on his street fairly well. Our relationship evolved from greetings to occasional conversations about world events. Whenever he discussed something in the news that pertained to black people he would say “your people.” He was clearly disappointed by some of our actions. He was African American so I would jokingly say they are your people too. He would say no they are not and we would laugh. Even though he was joking I’ve been told there is some truth present in all jokes.
I once heard someone say labels only help the labeler but often they are not as helpful for the one being labeled. Let’s go there. When people start dating someone of the same gender when they had previously dated people of the opposite sex, the first question people generally ask is, “so are you gay? ” So what does that really mean? I mean it’s obvious the person is dating someone of the same sex. What more are we trying to ask? What does gay mean? I know the basic definition but what really does gay mean? And what does the label do for the one labeling and the one being labeled? And what does it tell you that you already didn’t know? Labels sometimes are a way of ending conversations as opposed to engaging others. Labels allow us to take short cuts without ever getting to know someone. They sometimes allow us to make judgments, exercise assumptions and draw conclusions without any real information.
So Raven-Symone in her interview with Oprah stated, “I’m tired of being labeled.” She also stated she didn’t want to be labeled gay. She’s not African American. But what others heard particularly among African Americans was a stupid little young girl who was rejecting her race, and therefore rejecting her people. It’s not the firs time someone black of notoriety has tried to distanced themselves from being black. I am reminded of the community guy again who would say “your people.” We embrace our Indian side, our Caucasian side, and our Latino side but those black roots are just too much to bear. As Oprah predicted Twitterville lit up.
I have a wise friend with not many words. She is older and has raised her two children and is enjoying her grandkids. As a parent, I asked her what were her ambitions for her children when she was rearing them. I thought she would talk about college or the American dream. Her answer was different from any I had ever heard to the point that I never ever forgot the wisdom of her words. She said Charlene of course I want my kids to be happy but mostly I just want them to be good human beings. I want them to be kind to others. I want them to treat others with respect. I want them to work hard. I want them to be good human beings. When I am frustrated or challenged by the distance between my son’s ambitions and my hopes for him I remember her words and they comfort me.
I think Raven knows who she is. It’s impossible to be on the Cosby Show all those years and not gain a sene of one’s cultural identity. The Cosby show portrayed the black family for the firs time on a national syndicated tv show as functional, loving, professional, middle class, and human. Raven is saying something more and we missed it because it triggered the pain of our history. Raven is saying something and we need to hear it. She recognizes the limitations and oppressiveness of labels and she’s resisting. In fact she says, “I’m tired of being labeled.” She is gay. She is black. But beyond that like my friend raising her children she wants people to see her humanity. She wants people to see her. And maybe just maybe that is a prophetic idea for all of us. By the way I too grow weary of labels