Last fall, Oprah warned Raven-Symoné, “Oh, girl, don’t set Twitter on fire!” The actress and singer may have waited a few months, but her defense of a Univision anchor who made what’s been interpreted as a racist joke at Michelle Obama’s expense has set Twitter ablaze.
In an interview with The Daily Beast on Wednesday, Symoné said she is sticking to her guns and is “not going to back down” from her defense of Rodner Figueroa on The View and on Twitter.
Symoné, a guest star on Empire who will appear soon on black-ish, has been a guest host on The View all week. During Monday’s Hot Topics segment, the conversation turned to Figueroa, who was fired after saying Obama looked like she was from the cast of Planet of the Apes during a Univision segment that showed a makeup artist’s transformation into the first lady.
Co-host Rosie Perez went on a tear when the topic came up, speaking heatedly about what she views as underlying racism against blacks in the Latino community. “They never want to be in the same group as black people and it’s sad,” she said. Her conclusion about Figueroa’s comments: “It was racist, period.”
Symoné disagreed. “I don’t think he was saying it racist,” she said. “Not Michelle Obama. Michelle, don’t fire me for this right now, but some people do look like animals…Is that rude? I look like a bird. So can I be mad at somebody that calls me Toucan Sam?”
Figueroa, in the wake of his own controversy, has clarified that he was referring to the makeup artist who transformed into Obama, not the first lady herself. Still, Symoné’s comments have become news in their own right, and the actress has taken to Twitter to defend herself, tweeting, “Some comments are rude, some are disrespectful, and some are racist. Try to not exchange one for the other.”
The Daily Beast asked Symoné why she thinks her comments caused such uproar. “I don’t think they heard what I said,” she said. “I did not defend the man. I said that what he said was very distasteful. And I think that the organization is in the right to fire him. And I don’t believe that she looks like a racially charged animal that has been connected to the black community for years and years.”
Then, with a laugh, she added: “However, I do know people that look like animals!”
Symoné said she stands by what she said on The View. “I can’t—I’m not going to back down from what I believe in,” she said. “We should bring up the fact that on Instagram people do that every day. They post one picture of a celebrity and an object or an animal right next to each other. ‘Doesn’t this look like that?’” As for Figueroa’s Planet of the Apes quip, “He didn’t understand that that word is hurtful in some communities because of the connotation of it. I understand that. But also I think that there’s some people that look like animals. I look like a bird. Everybody’s not racially angry. Calm down.”
This interview is a portion of a forthcoming profile of Raven-Symoné that will appear in The Daily Beast.