Last week, the perennially politically incorrect Raven-Symone made the famous, or rather, infamous comment that she would never hire anyone with a name that sounded too Black.
In fact, the high priestess of Black people bashing went even further by stating, “I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not gonna happen.” It was like a “Whoa! OK, tell us what you really think” moment.
Likely, in an effort to diffuse the tension that had suddenly engulfed the room, The View co-host Joy Behar remarked (and correctly so) that “a lot of White people named their children after food ― Apple, Honey.” Behar further suggested that people should refrain from naming their children when they are “hungry,” prompting laughter form the audience. Raven-Symone has since backtracked from her earlier comments.
It did not take a rocket scientist to realize (in fact, Raven-Symone probably knew this after she had spoken) that her callous remarks would cause all hell to break loose in the bloggersphere. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook went into overdrive, taking Raven-Symone to task for her arrogant, disrespectful comments. Predictably, Black Twitter broke it down, kept it real, and schooled the former child star and View co-host about her arrogant, disrespectful and bigoted comments.
What was more ironic, notable, and indeed disturbing and troubling about this situation is that fact that we have a person (Raven-Symone) who is Black, openly gay and has a distinctive name making blatantly discriminatory comments and disparaging others who have names that she finds unacceptable. In fact, as far as Black celebrity names go, Raven-Symone is arguably the Blackest-identifying celebrity name out there. The hypocrisy is not lost on anyone here.
Perhaps Raven-Symone is unaware of the fact that there have been a number of studies conducted confirming that there are people who actually do in fact discriminate against people based on the fact that they harbor names that are “Black or ethnic sounding.” These people are bigots. She, whether wittingly or unwillingly, has bought into this retrograde mindset. This fact in and of itself is a sad and troubling commentary.
To be sure, Raven-Symone has had a history of making controversial comments, from declaring that she does not consider herself African-American, to defending Whites who have criticized the physical features of certain Black celebrities, to this latest misstep. Things have gotten to the point that even father has chimed in on her latest comments. Christopher Pearman, Raven-Symone’s father, made it clear that, while he loved his daughter and would always support her, he was not amused by her latest remarks. The elder Pearman went on to further say that “she sometimes says some dumb [stuff].”
When the mini-controversy broke, Raven-Symone initially remained largely quiet. Perhaps this was a calculated strategy on her part. Stay below the radar and let others discuss her behavior; people will tire of discussing it and the controversy will fade. There is another possibility that she is dumb/careless like a fox. It could very well be that she is a very clever provocateur, making undisciplined comments and manipulating and whipping segments of the public into a frenzy. Respond with defiance and an air of self-righteousness or resort to a “Who, little ol’ me” defensive posture and eventually walk back her comments. Only she can answer this question.
To be sure, Raven-Symone is far from the first celebrity, Black or non-Black, who has found themselves in the media/public crossfire after being caught making blatantly distasteful or awkward statements. She is certainly not the first Black person to make comments that have been interpreted as offensive by a sizable segment of the Black community. Pharrell Williams, the rapper Common, 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, Black conservatives in general, comedian Sheryl Underwood (she later recanted her comments about Black women and natural hair), ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, D.L. Hughley and some others have made remarks that have raised the blood pressure of more than few Black people and progressive-minded folk.
The fact is that none of us are perfect. We are all human and are prone to missteps. No one should be raked over the coals for one mistake, particularly if the mistake does not adversely affect the larger community.
That being said, whether they like it or not, Black celebrities are in a unique position in that they are often revered by both their own people and the greater society. They must be aware that their words and deeds will be heard and seen by the entire world. These are the same comments and remarks that can be used, promoted and perverted by others with less than noble and, rather, sinister agendas in an effort to do harm to the larger community. Thus, it is incumbent on Black celebrities and VIPs to be ever mindful of this reality.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African-American studies and gender studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of Beginning A Career in Academia: A Guide For Graduate Students of Color (Routledge Press, 2015).