Actress Raven-Symoné recently came under fire for comments made during an interview with Oprah, in which she revealed that she does not assign labels to herself. She said, “I’m an American. I’m not African American,” and that an American is a “colorless person, ’cause we are all people.”
Thankfully, many people called her out for her nonsense. We know that colorblind racism is harmful because it gives people the comfort of ignoring the reality of racial oppression, while making them feel progressive and enlightened for believing that race is insignificant because “we are all people.”
Earlier this year, Pharrell Williams also talked to Oprah about race and labels, introducing what he calls the New Black. “The 'new black' doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The 'new black' dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation; it’s a mentality,” he explained. Later on, he clarified his previous statements in an interview with Channel 4. “I use my mind for my opportunities. I'm not looking for anyone’s help because of my skin color. I don’t see my skin color as some affliction or something that holds me back in the world.”
Pharrell seems to insinuate that the rest of us (the Traditional Black? The Old Black?) just go throughout life complaining, making excuses, and asking for help. On the contrary, those of us who do not subscribe to the new black ideology simply acknowledge that systemic racism exists, it exists on purpose, and it has profound effects on people of color.
All you have to do is look at history and the statistics. Black people have about $80,000 less in household wealth than whites, and this can be explained in part by policies that excluded black people from wealth growing opportunities. Blacks are more likely to be arrested -- and are given harsher sentences -- for the same crimes as whites. A white person with a high school degree is just as likely to get a job as black person with a college degree. And as we all know, a black person can be shot and killed for absolutely anything, including complying with police (Mike Brown), or holding a sandwich (Vonderrit Myers Jr.) These are just a few examples of many reasons why we cannot afford to pretend to be colorless.
I’m neither here for whatever the hell the New Black is, nor for black celebrities who can conveniently remove themselves from the reality of being black because they have the money and privilege to do so.
I’m here for people who acknowledge racism and the effects it clearly has on people of color. I’m even here for white parents who can admit that because of their privilege and lack of experience with racial oppression, they probably aren’t prepared to raise a black girl in the world.
Jennifer Cramblett is one half of the Ohio lesbian couple who is suing a sperm bank, after a donor mix-up resulted in their daughter being half black. Many have accused the couple of being racist because they are seeking compensation for damages related to their daughter’s race. They are anxious about putting her through an all-white school, and raising her in an all-white town and around their all-white family.
But given what we know about being a black person in the U.S., would it have been better for the parents to be colorblind? Would we prefer they pretend that raising a biracial daughter is exactly the same as raising a white one? Should they ignore the statistics about black girls related to intimate partner violence, reproductive health, and mental health? Should they not acknowledge that their daughter Payton, like many girls of color, may have self esteem issues related to her race, and that her parents as white folks may not have been prepared to deal with this?
Should Jennifer Cramblett and her partner recognize and respond to the reality that Payton is half black? Or should they pretend that she is colorless?
Being a black person has consequences. It is OK to talk about the history behind it and the statistics surrounding it. In fact, it’s not just OK, it is necessary. When black people are being beaten and killed, we must openly admit that race is an issue in our country instead of hiding behind colorblindness. Because of this, it is necessary for a white lesbian couple to admit that there is more to take into consideration when raising a biracial child as opposed to raising a white one.
I don’t think that Jennifer Cramblett and her partner are racist. Cramblett has said that she loves her daugher and would “never trade her for the world.” It is this love that drives her to do the best that she can for her daughter, which includes getting the money they need to move and start over in a new town where Payton will be safer. Hopefully when Payton gets older, she will appreciate that her parents see her blackness and how that impacts her life, and that they are trying their best to ensure her health and happiness.