When We Remove The Labels, Who Are We?
We live in a world dominated by labels. While many people think classifying us into a certain group is beneficial, we often fail to recognize the harmful, unintended consequences and forget that at the core we are all human. Understanding these consequences and re-framing our daily language are steps we can take to ensure greater unity at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels of society.
Who am I? Black. Latino. Straight. Transgender. Rich. Conservative. Muslim. Lawyer. Farmer. Addict. Celebrity.
Aren’t we more than the color of our skin, our sexuality, socioeconomic status, political ideology, religion, occupations, struggles, and triumphs? Yes. These features, along with many others, are pieces of our identities, but when we remove the labels we are all one thing: human. Isn’t that crazy? When we remove the labels we have created, at the core we are all the same.
If there were an image of me or a name associated with this article, what would you think? Would you see me as just a human being or would you automatically classify me into certain categories? Be honest. If you are the person who would define me, you are not alone. From the time we could begin processing information that’s exactly what society has taught us to do – our parental influences, education system, the media, politics, religion, you name it. Un-learning this phenomenon not only goes against the status quo, but it also completely changes the way we perceive the world.
So I get it…why the heck would anyone want to try? Because the impact it would have on our society is monumental.
Our world is so divided. We literally create divisions for ourselves when we associate with a certain group or population. We do this to belong, to feel understood, and to remind us that we are not alone. That’s great, but I think we don’t realize the long-term consequences. Our world is composed of thousands of man-made cliques that very rarely co-mingle because we assume one clique could never fully understand another.
I got my clique. You got your clique.
We live in a society where stereotypes diminish our individuality. When you are associated with a specific population, people begin to assume things about you. We generalize. It’s easier and less time consuming than cultivating a real relationship. Not everyone does this of course, but many do. Think about the things you have assumed about another person or that you know someone has thought about you. Have you ever assumed someone is lazy because they are overweight? An illegal immigrant because they are Latino? A Conservative because they are pro-life? A terrorist because they are Arab? Anorexic because they are a model or gymnast?
You get the idea.
We have this addictive habit of thinking that we know everything about one another just because of our labels. We don’t. We know very little.
Imagine there are no labels…if you can’t associate someone with a particular group or stereotype, then it’s harder to make an assumption about him or her, correct? This forces us to converse with a more open mind because we have fewer (and potentially 0) preconceived notions. When we listen, ask questions, take a genuine interest in someone’s story, that’s when we realize the falsity of our former assumptions. Once we open the conversation, we can learn so much about another person and also ourselves. We get to see each other for who we really are: human beings with a story. We don’t have to agree with or support someone else’s actions and behaviors, but at least we can empathize with them and begin to understand their perspective.
Though all of us are inherently different, we all belong to the same clique: humans. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what we look like, what we do for a living, what we believe, how much money we have, etc.; we’re just…humans. That is our innate identity, nothing else. The rest are just categories that we create.
So by now you might feel like shit about how you see and treat yourself or other humans. Don’t. This is not meant to shame anyone because let’s face it…I am guilty of labeling too. Instead, its purpose is to challenge you. To make you think. To question your current view of the world.
There is hope.
There is a very easy step you can take to begin eliminating labels within your own life – use person-first language, meaning you emphasize the person instead of the feature.
For example, rather than saying “I am gay” try “I am a person who is attracted to the same sex.” “I am Conservative” could translate to what you believe - “I believe decisions should be left to the states, I believe in saving the baby’s life at all costs, and I believe everyone is responsible for themselves”…or whatever beliefs you hold that align with a “conservative” stance on politics. This can be applied to any label. Do that for yourself and others. When you say “I’m gay” or “I’m Conservative” or “I’m a celebrity,” it is likely that others will follow suit. So using person-first language will hopefully have the same effect. It might be awkward to do this at first, but it becomes more natural with practice. Your individual contribution will make an impact, even if it is just in your own life and for those close to you.
When you use person-first language, this aspect of your life is just a piece of you…it is no longer your entire identity. You’ll realize that you are more than the color of your skin, your sexuality, socioeconomic status, political ideology, religion, occupation, struggles, and triumphs.
You’ll see yourself and all individuals on this earth as just exactly who we are…human.