In an interview with Oprah Winfrey this week, actress Raven Symonè started a meaningful national dialogue when said she doesn’t like labels and she considers herself “American, not African American.”
From the moment she said it, there was a fair chance she’d be misunderstood. And she was.
“She is wrong to run away from her blackness, seemingly hoping that no one acknowledges her beautiful brown skin and the history written all over her face,” Roxanne Jones, author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete”, said.
“I never said I wasn’t black, I want to make that very clear,” Symonè responded. “I said, ‘I am not African American.’ I never expected my personal beliefs and comments to spark such emotion in people. I think it is only positive when we can openly discuss race and being labeled in America.”
So MPR/APM’s Public Insight Network took her up on the opportunity, asking people in the network, “What are You?” and creating the #whatareyou hastag.
Here are some of the early responses:
“1) I chose “Lakota” because that is what I am, first and foremost. Lakota identifies me as a blood descendent relative of 1 of 3 Siouxan dialects, the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota speaking Native American groups from Northern Plains Region of North America. 2) I chose “Sioux” for you white people to relate to and understand from your perspective. 3) I chose “Woman” because if given the opportunity, I feel it is important to voice my pride in gender and pronounce myself with authority and assertion. I am not a feminist, I am simply strong, confident, and educated. As an American Indian I know how important it is to have/make opportunity to identify oneself, rather than being labeled (“Sioux, savage, squaw” for example) by a dominant society.”
“First, I am not a “what”, I am a “Who”.How long will we allow others to define us.From “darkie”, negro, colored, back to black!! I am simply human. I am sick of these “double – barrel names. I am a member of the human race, that’s why I used those words.I was born in Jamaica, had an Irish grandmother, educated in Europe, married a Berber, that is one melting pot.Respect my humanity!! And the race? I WON!!” (picture available)
“I love describing who I am by those two words. It says that I am American, but I am also of Salvadoran decent. Two backgrounds that I am proud of, two heritage that makes me who I am. I can eat a pupusa (a traditional Salvadoran dish) in the same delight I eat a burger. I can speak Spanish as fluently as I speak English. At the end of the day, it’s who I am; A mixture of traditions, of histories that intertwine, and of learning, loving, and accepting the difference between them.
“Yes, in America we are a beautiful mosaic of colors and patterns. Why not take pride in that?!”
Keith McCormic, Austin TX
a) Accurate – It conveys truth, both veracity and deeper meaning.
b) Concise – It’s short, sweet, and descriptive.
c) Complex – It encompasses every ethnicity that has ever been or come here.
d) Public – My ancestry is for friends, notbureaucratsand random strangers.”
“I’m of Spanish/Mexican Heritage. My family has been living in what is now Texas, US of A since the 1750’s. I’m NOT HisPanic, I’m NOT Mexican. Thebordercrossedme and mine, WE did notcrossthe border. I choose to identify myself an American first and if i’m pushed (Awh.. come on man Really? WHAT are you..) I’ll say TexIcan. I do this mostly not to be difficult but because someone else is trying to fit me into a category that they are comfortable with. Nope, I’m not going to make YOU comfortable. I’m going to make ME comfortable!”
“My parents emigrated from the Philippines in the 80s and I was born here. Growing up, they would tell me, “If anyone asks you where you’re from, you say from here. You were born in this country and are a citizen. The Philippines is not your home.” That stuck with me. Even now people ask me where I’m from but I know what they’re really asking. I tell them what I wrote above: my parents are from the Philippines but I was born here. I grew up with lots of white people and military families in Northern VA. I often joke, “I forget I’m not white!” I guess by white, I mean that I forget that people see me differently than the stereotypical American millennial because of how I look. While I associate myself with this country and this culture, I still appreciate where my parents came from and the traditions our family has because of them.”
“What else would I be? My father, Grand, Great and Great Great grand fathers were born in the United States. As were my mother’s family. I am North American, and have always referred to my nationally as North American. My love and allegiance are to The United States, At some point in your family history one becomes more American than any other nationality. No longer is one Irish American, they become American Irish or American African, American Asian. Similar to the ingredients on a package, the ingredient which makes up the largest portion is listed first.”
What are you? You can provide the answer here.
(h/t: Joellen Easton)