The entire country has been up in arms over the video that went viral this week showing hulking Deputy Ben Fields hurl a 16-year-old black girl from her desk at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. While discussing the topic on The View, always-controversial co-host Raven-Symone raised the ire of social media after she chastised the student for allegedly being on her phone when the teacher asked her to put it away.
Raven-Symone believed that there were “two wrongs” revealed in the video, explaining her position thusly: “The girl was told multiple times to get off the phone. There’s no right or reason for him to be doing this type of harm, that’s ridiculous. But at the same time, you gotta follow the rules in school. First of all, why are there cellphones in school? This shouldn’t even be a problem to begin with, and he shouldn’t have been acting like that on top of it.”
After it was pointed out that not only was the force unwarranted, but Shields has a history of brutish behavior on the job, Raven reiterated that the girl should not have been on the phone.
“He was actually sued for false arrest, excessive force and battery in 2007 after a couple accused him of manhandling them. He has a record and he’s still hired—but at the same time, get off yo’ phone. You’re in school. Get off yo’ phone! What are you doing on Instagram?”
The co-hosts then tossed around a few words about young people and their lack of respect for authority—because there was never a bratty kid before the iPhone, apparently.
But her reaction to the incident—which she repeated twice and got applause from the audience—reveals that Raven-Symone doesn’t grasp that a non-cooperative teenager doesn’t warrant brute force. There was no physical altercation happening until Deputy Ben Fields initiated one. I kept hearing her statement and wondering how little empathy one must have for a teenage girl to think she would deserve being physically assaulted for not putting her phone away.
But Raven-Symone has consistently revealed how little empathy she has for black people.
This latest controversy comes just weeks after Raven-Symone declared that she wouldn’t hire someone if they had a “ghetto” name. While distinguishing between what she considered “discriminatory” but not “racist,” she admitted that “I’m not going to hire you if your name is ‘Watermelondrea.’ It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.”
After Univision host Rodner Figueroa made a racist joke about Michelle Obama joining the cast of Planet of the Apes, Raven-Symone pondered aloud whether the comment was “racist-like.” “Was he saying it racist-like? Because he said that he voted for her later, and I don’t think he was saying it racist,” Raven said. “Michelle, don’t fire me from this right now, but some people look like animals. I look like a bird. So can I be mad if somebody calls me Toucan Sam?”Earlier this year, Raven-Symone made it clear that she was uncomfortable with the idea of Harriet Tubman being considered for the $20 bill. “No offense to everyone who’s going to be mad at me for saying this: I don’t like that idea. I don’t like it… I think we need to move a little bit forward. Let me just preface [by saying], I understand the history. I get it, trust me. I was taught, I’m in that culture. But there’s also Wilma Mankiller, there’s also Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman… Me personally, I would’ve chosen Rosa Parks. I would have chosen someone that is closer to the progression that we’re doing now.”
So again—Raven-Symone’s behavior raises the question: Who does Raven-Symone think she is?
That’s not an indignant, rhetorical question—like, “How dare she?” That’s a sincere, concerned question regarding how the former child star turned Disney maven turned View co-host sees herself. Who does she think Raven-Symone is?
Does she not think Raven-Symone is a black woman? Does she not see herself as an entertainer who has been and would be routinely marginalized because she doesn’t fit into preset white, straight standards so prevalent in both Hollywood and society? She’s been working in Hollywood since she was 3 years old, so Raven-Symone has to know the sting of industry racism on some level or another. How can 17-year-old Amandla Stenberg have a better grasp of what it means to be a young black girl in a world that doesn’t value young black girls? Maybe Raven-Symone, convinced of her own exceptionalism, has been lulled into thinking that becoming a superstar to young people all over the world happened because racism isn’t that big a deal anymore. Maybe she doesn’t really recognize that there wasn’t a flood of “next Ravens” being churned out by networks because Hollywood would always rather sell white faces.
In the early 2000s, an era of teen idols in the vein of Hillary Duff and the Olsen Twins, Raven-Symone was a barrier breaker as That’s So Raven became Disney’s longest-running original series at the time. She became one of the most bankable stars in the Disney stratosphere as an African-American, thicker-than-your-average teenage star. With her hit show, her albums and the Cheetah Girls brand, Raven-Symone provided a template for Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers to follow—which Cyrus parlayed into success with Hannah Montana before breaking out to become a major pop star.
Were those opportunities ever there for Raven-Symone? Does she ever wonder how her career would’ve evolved if she’d been a waifish white girl that had Disney’s most popular show, Eddie Murphy movies on her résumé, and a career that stretched all the way back to 1989? Maybe she thinks it’s virtuous to not dwell on what might have been. But her views on race suggest she’s in total denial; beyond her own career, Raven-Symone doesn’t seem to understand how it affects American society and culture. She operates like a person convinced that not seeing racism is all that it takes for black achievement. She doesn’t get it and she doesn’t empathize. And in that, she distances herself from blackness.
Raven famously told Oprah in 2014 that she resists labels. At the time, she had announced that she was in a relationship with a woman—former America’s Next Top Model contestant AzMarie Livingston—but she didn’t want to be labeled “gay” or even “African-American.”
“I’m tired of being labeled,” Raven said at the time. “I’m an American. I’m not an African-American—I’m American.”
“I will say this. I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go,” she added. “I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from, but I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m American. And that’s a colorless person. I don’t label myself. I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian. I connect with Asian. I connect with black. I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture.”
She later “defended” her remarks. “I never said I wasn’t black. I said I wasn’t African-American. To me, that’s a difference. Thank you to Ancestry.com, actually, for sending me my DNA test. I am from every continent in Africa, except for one. And I am from every continent in Europe, except for one. And for the last 400 years, my family has been living in Virginia. How long do you have to be in one country before you’re that?”
Raven-Symone loves her Americanness. America made her wealthy and famous. But America also marginalizes her. If she wasn’t a famous television star, she’d have been the girl scrutinized for her “unusual” hair and “non-traditional” name. She’d be stared at for walking down the street holding her girlfriend’s hand. She’d be an other. It’s so sad that she seems to be so intent on distancing herself from the people who relate to her the most. She should see herself in them.