If you’re in the midst of doing any resume-building, here’s a tip: don’t look up Raven-Symoné. Her career is, simply put, mind-boggling. It’s just not fair. First of all, she got her headstart as an infant, picking up some modeling between napping, pooping her diaper, and eating mush. By the wee age of four, she was on The Cosby Show. At age eight? She’d already dropped an album.
When, at 16, she auditioned for a recurring character role – Chelsea Daniels on a Disney Channel original show titled Absolutely Psychic – she didn’t get the part. Instead, they cast her as her as the new lead, Raven Baxter, and then renamed the show That’s So Raven. Are you serious?
It was on the titular show that Raven really became a household name. Next to the other Disney and Nickelodeon shows of its time, That’s So Raven was impressively diverse, with a loving black family at the center.
Raven sang and acted like she was born to do it. Her comedic timing was impeccable. America fell in love.
She continued to do awesome things (Cheetah girls, cheetah sisters, anyone?), although she became increasingly more private as she grew older. Instead of dating somebody in the spotlight and showing off her new legal status like many of her peer starlets, Raven made sure to stay out of the public eye, easing into adulthood quietly.
Last year, Raven encountered media speculation that she was dating AzMarie Livingston, a former America’s Next Top Model contestant. Instead of refuting or confirming the claims, Raven announced that her love life was nobody else’s damn business.
Last week though, Raven decided it was time to break her silence on the topic of her sexuality, addressing the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling and the recent addition of Minnesota and Rhode Island as states that allow same-sex marriage. The Tweet is so Raven: smart, brave, admirable.
It’s not new for members of the LGBTQ+ community to encourage celebrities to come out, countering their pleas for privacy by claiming that their high-profile decisions to be true to their sexuality would be good for the public. Other private celebrities to recently come out include Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper.
But Raven is different from so many of her peers who have joined the list of gay celebrities. She’s a woman of color. Wanda Sykes is one of the only other black women to have publicly come out, although women like Queen Latifah and Oprah Winfrey have endured speculation for years.
As NYU film professor and black film historian Donald Bogle says, “Interracial relationships and sex-same relationships are still subjects most famous people of color won’t discuss. The response from the black audience is still so unknown that it’s a risk that most really fear taking – and that’s understandable.”
Although Raven, bursting with talent, has been cast well in her 27 years, it’s still obviously difficult as hell to be a black star and to receive good roles in Hollywood, which remains an overwhelmingly white industry.
“There is no just no way to tell how revealing your sexual preferences will impact your career from the fan side or the business side. As a black performer struggling to work, you cannot afford to take that chance,” Bogles continues.
A black actress who chose to remain anonymous says, “Being black is a heavy enough burden in the entertainment industry. Being a woman over 30 is enough of a burden in this town. Why add one more thing they can hold against you to the mix?”
Raven has already faced an angry backlash from Twitter as many expressed surprise and distaste over her sexuality.
To these reprehensible Tweets, I suppose we can only respond with this:
I want to thank Raven for being an absolute inspiration – for her seemingly bottomless talent, for her strength and compassion as a woman of color in the public eye, for having the courage to share her life with us.