Dear Raven Symone,
I am sorry.
I confess that what I know about you entirely consists of that by which you do not want you to be known. I know that you are an actor, a black American, and after watching your recent interview I learned that you are a lesbian.
I am sorry.
In the past several days since you told Oprah Winfrey that you do not like being labeled, your preferences (both in lifestyle and semantics) have been analyzed, criticized and even applauded by those who don’t pretend to know you but assume to understand your responsibility as a celebrity, a person of color, and a woman in a homosexual relationship. That response has spread as wide as criticism from distinguished members of liberal academia to praise from perennial jackass Glenn Beck.
I am sorry.
Because I don’t think anybody is really listening to you. Very few people are talking about the struggles that you acknowledged just seconds before agreeing with the insinuation that you don’t like being labeled gay or African American. Nobody heard you say that as a 12 year-old, you did not have the language to locate yourself in terms of your sexual orientation and your most instinctual desires. Nobody seems to be talking about your lamentation that you don’t feel connected to any roots in Africa.
It is not my place to suggest to you whether or not you are responsible to the demographic identifiers such as “gay” or “African American” because my struggle with white privilege means that I do not often walk through stores, interact with my lover, or put myself in the sphere with the weight of having to represent an entire group of people.
However, what I am hearing from the words that you are not saying is that the labels that you have been given, the identifiers of certain traits that were endowed to you by the Creator, have been restrictive to you; and frankly, in disagreement with the majority of the Twittosphere, I don’t see where this speaks to you. These restrictive labels speak more to our failure to you as fellow Americans.
And with the understanding that each of us was created in the image of the Creator, I believe, that we as Christians have failed you too.
You see, I believe that our unique composition of various distinctions serves to illuminate more of the mysterious nature of God, and for any quality that shapes you to be restrictive is both a theological and syntax failure. I believe that the culture(s) that we choose to identify with enhance our communities and not to separate us.
As a result, I will be much more diligent to use adjectives with great sensitivity when working with young men and women are looking to understand, develop, and express themselves in the context of the many communities through which they may identify. And I pledge to be more sensitive to the language that each individual prefers as opposed to the language that is most comfortable to me. Further, I pledge to be patient to give the space that is sometimes needed to struggle with identity labels.
I see it as my responsibility to create environments where men and women are able to explore their own race and sexuality on their terms as they define them and I invite fellow Christians to join me in working for those environments., though I acknowledge we are not there yet.
And I am so sorry.