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I am deeply suspicious of African-Americans who wish to separate from something they can never separate themselves from – being Black. I don’t care if you have light, dark or caramel skin, or even an interesting grade of hair, in the eyes of American society as a whole – you are African-American or Black.

Obviously, Raven Symone did not get the memo. Regrettably, she is not by herself. There are ton of lost souls who wish not be called African-American or Black.

It has always been my feeling that people like Tiger Woods, O.J. Simpson and the many other Negroes out here who are not famous but wish to separate themselves from being Black are accidents waiting to happen.

And while Symone has every right to believe and be who she wants to be, she just cannot run away from who she is – a Black American. She lives in a country where everyone reps who they are and where they are from.

So why run away from it? After making these comments on Oprah’s Where Are They Now  show, Symone tried to do crisis management and damage control by walking back her comments, saying she never said she wasn’t Black.

But on the show, she did say she was ‘colorless.’ Unfortunately for Symone, even Olivia Pope couldn’t save this mess. As I sat in the barbershop this morning, listening as Symone and Woods dominated the conversation, one thing became very clear – Black people have long memories.

Arthur Ashe once described his life as “a succession of fortunate circumstances.” I think the same can be said for Symone, now 28, who made millions as a TV star growing up right before our eyes on The Cosby Show and as Disney’s most popular teen star on That’s So Raven. 

So I find it heart-wrenching that she did not realize the harsh realities of racism, prejudice, and hostility that are revealed through the struggles of being Black in this country. That she did not realize the traumas we face desperately trying to understand the cruel and negative world we live in and how much we take pride in our celebrities and the many African-Americans who become educated and successful.

I understand the difficulty the question poses for those, who like Symone, may be unclear about their exact ancestry. But before she denied her rich heritage entirely, she should have thought about what and who we are talking about when we use the term African-American.

In her defense, categorical labeling is a tool that humans use to resolve the impossible complexity of the environments we grapple to perceive. Labels are adaptive but also contribute to some of the deepest problems that we face as a nation and a people.

Labels shape more than our perception of color; they also change how we perceive and interact with other people. Symone’s concept of race, and being labeled, both a result of being born in a country built on racial injustice, contains a kernel of truth: for many people of color, race plays a significant role in our self-understanding, well-being and our way of being in the world.

We do not live in a post-racial or colorless society. My hope is that Symone and others like her will take a step back and understand how they helped shape the American narrative of Blacks in this country. My hope is that she will eventually understand that being Black or African-American is not just a label; it’s who we are.

Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist, who is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a Writer, Editor and Communications Specialist. Twitter: @zackburgess1

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