The Labels We Use

This semes­ter I’m tak­ing two classes, advanced research meth­ods and advanced research writ­ing (keep read­ing, this will be more inter­est­ing, I promise). In the writ­ing class we’re work­ing on our lit­er­a­ture reviews, the final project for the class. We’ve dis­cussed and worked on var­i­ous aspects of our lit­er­a­ture reviews — anno­tated bib­li­ogra­phies, abstract, APA style, head­ings, etc. The main topic of dis­cus­sion this past week was on LABELS.

One of the aspects I most appre­ci­ate about our writ­ing pro­fes­sor is that we do group activ­i­ties and dis­cus­sions and she pro­motes much inter­ac­tion between our small class. When it came to the dis­cus­sion of labels, she gave us a few min­utes to list 1) a label about our­selves that we DO like, and, 2) a label about our­selves that we DON’T like. Though this may seem like an easy or fast exer­cise, it caused me pause to think about the labels me and oth­ers use to describe our­selves. And more impor­tantly, what labels we use to describe oth­ers. For exam­ple, labels given to small chil­dren (“at risk”, “poor”, “sin­gle par­ent house­hold”) often­times stay with them through­out their child­hood and into adulthood.

Labels can be descrip­tive (“intel­li­gent”, “pretty”), pos­i­tive (“great per­son­al­ity”, “easy to get along with”), neg­a­tive (“pes­simist”, “mean-spirited”), along with being based on one’s eth­nic­ity, reli­gion, sex­u­al­ity, gen­der and/or age.

When I listed my “labels” I had much more I didn’t like then liked. The labels that I appre­ci­ate and like are: mom, sin­gle, female. The ones I don’t like are: white, divorced, mid­dle class, over-educated, plus size, daugh­ter of an alco­holic. As the group shared their per­sonal labels, we each got to know one another on a more inti­mate and per­sonal level. Labels (both liked and dis­liked) ranged from fem­i­nist, at risk, mid­dle class, African, Native Amer­i­can, work­ing mother, Black, imper­sonal, to Jew­ish. In lis­ten­ing to my fel­low class­mates and pro­fes­sor, I reflected on how we so eas­ily label oth­ers and per­haps how unfair it’s to do so.

Is clas­si­fy­ing and plac­ing peo­ple in silos and label­ing them on their phys­i­cal appear­ance, reli­gious back­ground, color of skin, eth­nic­ity, level of edu­ca­tion, polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion, mar­i­tal sta­tus, age, eco­nomic state or sex­ual pref­er­ence fair?

Is label­ing valid in per­form­ing reli­able and eth­i­cal research? Does label­ing cause more harm than good?

The U.S. Cen­sus Depart­ment com­pleted the 2010 cen­sus, and in doing so labels the U.S. pop­u­la­tion for a vari­ety of socioe­co­nomic demo­graphic sta­tis­tics that will affect gov­ern­ment fund­ing, at all lev­els, for years to come. Not only does the gov­ern­ment (at all lev­els) uti­lize cen­sus infor­ma­tion, but busi­nesses do as well for tar­geted mar­ket­ing cam­paigns to seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion, such as the grow­ing His­panic pop­u­la­tion in the United States.

This past week I thought often about LABELS and reflected on the use of them in my own com­mu­ni­ca­tion meth­ods and thought processes. Per­haps it’s time for us to not label peo­ple (or our­selves) as fast as soci­ety would like us to. We’re not a coun­try of silos, described only by our beliefs, color of skin, mar­i­tal sta­tus, age or how much money we make, but rather a coun­try, and world, full of fas­ci­nat­ing, inter­est­ing, remark­able men, women and chil­dren who, instead of being labeled, should be treated with respect and fair­ness. Isn’t that how you want to be treated?

Let’s vote for a label-free world.

“Once you label me, you negate me.” ~  Soren Kierkegaard

Writ­ten By Ms. Renee Vevea, anti-labeler.