There was something about being covered in a 3’ x 5’ rainbow flag, voguing down Fifth Avenue to Madonna and Lady Gaga with my friends and ending up on the Christopher Street Pier with the drag queens and the boys with booty shots I’d never find myself in. Pride Weekend in New York City changed my life and a few hours after attending the annual parade, I came out on my personal blog as a bi-sexual woman. The support and the flags, the glitter and the pride, that heavily covered the air in Greenwich Village that weekend of 2013, coerced me to let that out. From that moment, I wasn’t just going to the festivities as a supporter of the LGBTQ community, but as a woman who identified and connected with the culture. It was a risk coming out, opening myself up to criticism and taking the chance of losing friends with those who turned up their noses at the LGBTQ experience because of religious beliefs. I knew that; I participated the next year with a confidence embedded in me anyway.
But I never walked around with a big, “Hey, I’m bisexual,” multicolored sign plastered on my back. I don’t go places and introduce myself as Erica, the bisexual woman. I’ve classified myself as such for personal reasons but that title, that label that I’ve put on myself, doesn’t determine who I am entirely. I don’t fit the stereotype of “bisexual people being confused about their sexuality, unable to choose one or the other,” or “bisexual people aren’t able to stay committed to solely one partner.” I debunk those very myths daily. So when Raven-Symone told Oprah during a sit down for O’s Where Are They Now? series that she doesn’t want to be labeled gay (although in a committed relationship with a woman) but rather, “a human who loves humans,” I applauded her for that. I tipped my invisible hat and went on about my way. I’ve always said when advocating for gay rights, that I never understood why so many were angry at people who loved who they wanted to. How can you find a fault in love?
But then, I found myself slowly taking two steps back. Raven said what?
You’re “not an African-American”? To reiterate the very words Ms. Winfrey used in that very moment, “oh, girl.” I don’t understand how we got here because see, as an Afro-Latina woman, I looked up to, was inspired by, motivated and was given a glimpse of hope because of a once-upon-a-time, little Olivia Kendall. Sure, she was a few shades lighter than I was, but I connected to her. She looked like me. Her hair was thick, we used the same bobos, and it looked like she used some grease similar to what my mom used on me as a five- and six-year old to slick that bad boy back. Olivia was the homie and she was on one of the biggest television shows ever, featuring a predominately African-American cast.
But now Raven doesn’t want to be labeled an African-American and while I understand her stance in saying what I heard in fourth grade, that America is this giant melting pot of cultures and ethnicities and we’re all just “Americans” when it boils down to it, I’m a little confused on her bringing the tone of her skin and the texture of her hair into the equation. Raven goes on to say that she cannot pinpoint where exactly in Africa her ancestors are from but knows her roots lie here in the states, down in Louisiana. So while the complexion of her skin can be rooted back to several places, let’s get serious here about the hair. Raven, girl, your “nice, interesting grade of hair” traces back to Africa, period. Regardless of which of the 53* countries your ancestors were from Raven, there is African blood running rampant in your veins. And you can run from that fact, dispute the claim and choose not to call yourself such, but Jay Z said it best: “No matter where you go, you are what you are, and you can try to change, but that’s just the top layer. You was who you was before you got here.”
And wise words from my Granny, “You just call a spade, a spade.”
So Raven-Symone, if you don’t want the labels, I understand and I respect that, but in my eyes, you’ll always be the very thing I think you’re running from, because regardless of what, we’re both members of the LGBTQ community and like it or not, we’re both women from the African diaspora just living in America.
—Erica N. Harris