So, I normally use this blog as a place to put my creative writing. It is primarily a place for my ideas to live. Sometimes though, I feel the need to express my thoughts in a more direct way. For my international readers, it’s worth noting here that I live in the United States. I will be speaking from this vantage point.
In the national discourse here, I have seen things divide into two very distinct in disparate camps of thought: one of which uses labels as a means to demean, oppress, marginalize, and ignore. The other camp thinks that it’s a fantastic idea to abolish the habit of labeling in its entirety because of the problems that the former way of thinking creates. However, in my mind, this is also fallacious thinking. The thinking of the latter group 6 to abolish labeling in order to paint a more human picture of humanity, ironically. I say ironically because you can’t make someone not human who is already human. You can try to use legislative trickery to take away the rights of a certain group, but you cannot take away the fact that the group is comprised of humans. I’m kind of getting a little off topic here. Sorry about that.
The thing about labels is that sometimes they’re useful. They are things that we can often use to refer to certain aspects of ourselves in order to better explain them. For example, I often refer to myself as disabled, or a person with a disability. In my particular case, it isn’t really all that important to me which one you use, as long as you don’t use a derogatory term like retarded or handicapped. The first indicating that I have some kind of mental deficiency… Which I clearly don’t. And the second implies a level of brokenness that needs to be repaired medically. I’m also a Pacific Islander, I’m also a Filipino-American. I’m also of native Hawaiian descent. All of these things are labels that I use to describe myself, terms or phrases of self-reference. I also have depression, and I’m also a trauma survivor. These words and phrases tell you something about me, that’s why I use them in the first place. None of these labels in and of themselves will tell you who I am.
All of this is to say that labels don’t necessarily need to be judged as inherently bad. It’s what we do with them that matters. It’s a lot easier for me to use some of these things to describe things about me than it is for me to tell you the various stories which belie each of them. I can if someone is interested, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day. To be quite honest, there may be days where I don’t even want to. But whether we’re talking about the Myers-Briggs label of me being in ENTP, the descriptor I use for my ethnic identity, my disability or whatever… These things are particularly useful to me as a person. With that, I give you one final thought: it isn’t labels that are necessarily bad, it’s how we use them that determines their worth. When someone uses labels of their choosing to describe themselves, don’t shut down the conversation by insisting on a particular lexicon, instead, listen to what that person is trying to tell you by invoking that usage. Maybe then you’ll be able to see the story behind that term or phrase. In doing so, we will take power away from those who would use such labels to undermine our humanity, and give the power back to the communities who use them as a means of self-reference and identification to form bonds with others in their communities, thereby empowering social change on our own terms.