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Raven-Symone and Label Rejection Theory

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Not surprisingly, Raven-Symone’s recent comments to Oprah Winfrey raised a tempest in the diversity teapot.  She ventured into an area most either simply don’t get, or quickly reject because it challenges their view of the world. In some cases, her expressed view may even threaten some livelihoods.

The area of “Diversity Consulting” is completely and fundamentally reliant on the concept of identity labels. The business model requires being able to generate a marketable taxonomy of differences that represents popularized and convenient human affinity groups in the form of culture and characteristics, then promote a form of activism known as “Diversity” based on those affinities. Their consulting centers on selling “sympatico” strategies and tactics that claim to make the resulting tensions between the structural elements of the taxonomy more manageable as diversity increases in a community, a company or even in a family. In other words, D&I first defines the tension between the divisions (labels) it promotes, then proposes to systematically break down those very same tensions, and ameliorate the exclusionary practices and cultural dissonance between the differences.

Whether that’s good or bad isn’t the issue.  It’s just what D&I Consultants do. They play up race, gender, generations, language, class, etc., then sell their services to address the “needs” created by those classifications. Rejecting those labels, classifications, undercuts the “Diversity” business model.

Raven-Symone isn’t by a long shot the first person to come up with the idea of rejecting the use of labels. As a child of the 60s, I can attest. The philosophy back then was easy to comprehend. By rejecting the “official” taxonomy of oppression, it denies the oppressor a fundamental tool of a divide and conquer strategy. That was the theory.

Simple. But not easy. (And, oh, by the way, it didn’t work.)

Still, though Raven-Symone may not have the vocabulary to articulate what she has felt and recognized, that’s true of most people. Most people, in fact, lack the background to adequately express either the acceptance or the rejection of labels as a concept.  For label rejection, however, it’s swimming upstream, dealing with issues usually reserved for academics in the arena of the psychology of identity deviance, social construction and identity politics.

Here’s one way of looking at the issue Raven-Symone has raised.  You’ve probably brought home enough flowers in your day to understand that concepts of culture and characteristics as “differences” creates a clever trap. Consider these “differences:”

A bouquet of a red roses
A bouquet of red, yellow, white and pink roses
A bouquet of various kinds or species of flowers
An arrangement of varied flower species and plant species.

In her own way, Raven-Symone is asking us to think about the point at which the mind perverts the nature of variety into what many call “differences,” and when those differences come to be perceived as borders between “kinds” rather than simply natural variations within the same kind. Raven-Symone is asking us to consider that a red rose and a yellow rose vary, but they are not different from one another in any way other than the way light frequencies reflect, which is a matter of no consequence to the rose, only to the beholder who may prefer red over yellow.

What we’ve learned is that human blood, organs, tissue, including sperm and eggs are 100% compatible across the “diversities” we might arrange into some taxonomy. The nature of physical variety among humans creates no differences that make us physically incompatible. Raven-Symone is suggesting that identity, a psychological feature common to all humans, not be subjected to the whims of short term cultural trends, distinctions between us that largely didn’t exist until more recent history, and ones that may likely disappear at some point in the next century or so.

For people who make their living promoting differences, and for those whose economic futures are tied to sustaining concepts of differences between and among people, it is a great leap to see Raven-Symone’s “rejection of labels” as anything but a lack of progress. But for those who understand the clever trap and the perversion of variation into differences, it’s not such a big leap, even a welcome, refreshing point of view.

There’s much more merit to Raven-Symone’s bold comments than can be covered in one short article. But as people realize that individual identity cannot be accommodated by the within the weak structure of a differences-based taxonomy, we are once again becoming more averse to labels. In other words, people are catching on to what “DIVersity” has done to us. While few would argue that there has been anything much beyond scant social progress, if any at all, in recent decades, the rejection of labels is a matter that transcends the D&I profession, the new gatekeepers of differences.

Raven-Symone recalls to mind the ideals of a generation that imagined a divisionless world. Not a world without variety, mind you…just a world that didn’t promote the perversion of variety into a taxonomy of diversity that sustains and exacerbates intractable differences between us.

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