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The problem with labels

Posted by rob333 (My Page) on
Thu, Oct 11, 12 at 9:11

The problem with labels is that they're labels. First, African-Americans were distinguished by calling them negroes. Then it was colored. Then it was black. Now it's African-American. After the semantics fight going on, I thought, why is it always changing? My realization is, because each time it's another way to single someone out. That's what wrong with labels. Why isn't he just the person with whom you work? Why is he the black Muslim with whom you work? Would you define someone as a white Chrisitian? Caucasians don't have this same issue. You'll notice that never changes. It's used interchangeably with white. If you don't make a distinction about his skin color or describe him with his skin color, why the next person? I think the world would be a better place if everyone took the race describers out of the conversations. One day a very long time ago, I noticed this issue when I decided I didn't want to say that black person over there. It is my opinion, racism still exists because the labels still exit. Even if one is trying to help an under-represented minority. The help seems to be hindering. It also seems time to stop using race labels all the way around. I found using describers I would use if they were white (tall, wearing a purple sweater, facing me, etc.) for every person helped me understand we're all equal in rights.

So why do you think labels still exist? Are they really necessary? Equality in rights are very important. People can be special without race being the defining factor. Don't you think? Should we rid the world of all delineations of race? Or would it show everyone that we're all equal in rights as I learned so long ago?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: The problem with labels

No I do not agree. People are proud of their heritage they honor the labels because of their heritage. Germans, Polish, Asian, Hispanic, African American etc. Each have different degree of skin color but it is heritage as the reason people prefer to be identified of that heritage.

Race, and nationality plays a big part of who you are. We cannot say everybody is a man or everybody is a woman. It fundamentally makes you who you are.

I would argue the difference should be embraced. Not hated or thought as less than. We do not have to love the difference but accept the difference. Everyone is human so as long as they are human they walk, talk, eat, want the best for their family.


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RE: The problem with labels

Rob, good points and for the most part, I do agree. This sure would be helpful for someone like me who seems to have a knack for inadvertantly choosing the wrong labels.

The exception to avoiding descriptive labels might be if there were a search for someone and the labels would eliminate looking for someone not fitting the description.

For example: A missing 26 year old female.....it would help to know her size,( weight & height) clothing, facial features and skin color. Then, the labels would be helpful.

Again, (without proof of the conversation ever taking place) let me reference my friend, Lillie.

While visiting together, I happened to comment that I didn't see her skin color anymore. She was a person to me..not a color. As good friends can speak openly to each other, and we do, she let me know that that really wasn't the thing to say. She said she understood what I meant, but she was Black and proud of it. "Black" may have been replaced by "African-American" but not in her world. She says she was not born in Africa and she is a Black American not an African American.

Some things change; and some don't.


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RE: The problem with labels

But how do you know what someone prefers Mar? Until you hear, do they have to be distinguished by an ancestral name? No one ever recognizes that I am an Irish-English-Cherokee (and whatever UNknown heritage I have, those are known) lady, for instance. Ok, the red hair gets recognized on St Paddy's day, but for the most part, no one knows I have Cherokee heritage. I don't disagree we should have pride and proclaim our own heritage, it's the distinguising someone else who hasn't said what they wish to be known as that I am talking about. Not that I disagree with you completely, just clarifying!

I realized you meant no harm on your thread mona. My adopted siblings are Asian (Filipino on their mother's side/Chinese on their father's). They don't take offense to Oriental any more than someone telling us we are from the Western world. They're just secure enough not to care, I think. But maybe that is not what all Asian's feel? Maybe it is anecdotal. Or maybe it's because they're not referred to in terms like Chicano/Latino/Hispanics (see how much that one has also changed?) are, for instance. It's the characterization that is different, possibly? I dunno. I only know Indians (who are, in fact, on the continent of Asia, but never known by Americans as Asian), Chinese, and Japanese folks, who are only called by their nationality. Far East has a mysterious allure to it these days, maybe we could change from Asian to Far-Easterner. Who knows what will be next???


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RE: The problem with labels

Within any community or society, there are generally accepted terms for the groups that make up the community. It falls to those outside the individual groups to use the accepted labels out of basic human respect, courtesy, allowing the various groups their dignity.

And then, we also have to look at who creates the label. When a label is self-created, it's generally considered acceptable to use, out of common courtesy. When a label is created by an outside group, it may not be an accepted or acceptable term to use; it may have been created out of prejudice and hold derogatory connotations.

I think we have to look to each group and follow modern trends in what's considered acceptable, courteous terms to use when noting various groups.

I call myself a bi-racial female, and I'm proud to do so. I could also make use of the terms for the individual nationalities that I'm comprised of. Overall, though, I'm American.

As long as a label is not demeaning or derogatory, it would be acceptable to use. I don't really think it's that tricky to stay on top of what various groups find acceptable as labels.


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RE: The problem with labels

I appreciate what you all are saying. I also respect you for saying what you are saying. I think what I'm getting is, labels aren't going anywhere. Thank you for your input. I'll keep on digesting.

It probably is my problem. Truly. Said in a very even keel, introspective way. I think I just feel about specifying a race as I do about calling someone "heavy-set", "kiddo" (from an older person to someone less senior, but not a "kid" in any way!), etc... even if they're meant nicely, and in a sincere way. That is, the person being called those things, while matter of fact, may or may not care for it. But it should be water off a duck's back.


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RE: The problem with labels

Hi Rob,
My DD referred to neighbors as "the Asians" a few months ago. I think I brought that up in here.

It's calling our president "black" when he's a mix...

I think it's interesting that people say they are "proud" to be Americans or "proud" to be black.

Ummmm.... "Feeling pleasurable satisfaction over an act, possession, quality, or relationship by which one measures one's stature or self-worth"

But maybe it's just me. I'm not "proud" to be a woman, or "proud" to be a heterosexual, or "proud" to be a founding daughter of this country.

I didn't do any of that, I didn't have any control over it.

I'm proud of my actions, I'm proud of my accomplishments. But I'm not proud of my heritage. I'm grateful for it and the lessons I've learned and the cool people I'm related to, but I'm not personally proud. Maybe if I knew them personally I would be. Otherwise, it's just a neat story.

I'm with you Rob. The more we can see people as individuals who have little control over their height (shorty) or their race, or their gender, the more evolved we'll be. There really is no difference.


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RE: The problem with labels

No, labels aren't going anywhere. We have to have some terminology with which to refer to various persons. Human is too vague... even though we are all human.

But common sense should automatically dictate what's considered acceptable along these lines.

You wouldn't point at a group of kids and say, "those fat kids"... you'd probably say, instead, "the husky kids over there"... or something similar that didn't offer derogatory connotations.

It's really quite simple... we treat others how we want to be treated, and that would include the use of labels.


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RE: The problem with labels

Hey Silver, hope all is going well in your world these days. I guess my view is a limited one, but I am not alone. I like how you've put it.

See? I wouldn't even say "those husky kids" over there. I'd just say "the group of children to my left", for instance. I just need to decide that I am extreme and own it :) My son is kinda like this. Actually, he's heck bent on changing the world. His least favorite thing is generalization. He's right of course, but those aren't going anywhere either. Humans are funny sort.


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RE: The problem with labels

People use labels to distinguish individuals from a larger group of people. People choose words that make that individual stand out from the group. Where I live the population is predominantly white, so when people say things like "the black guy" or "the Asian guy", others automatically know who they are talking about. Amongst caucasians you often hear people described as "the blonde girl" or "the redhead". I don't see these as labels per se, but as distinguishing features. At the same time though, I believe it's important to use terms accepted by these groups to avoid offending anyone.

I, for one, would never use religion to distinguish an individual from a group (for example, to say "the Muslim that I work with"). I personally don't know enough about all religions to be able to, for example, distinguish a Sikh from a Muslim if they are both wearing turbans and I would never want to be presumptuous and offend them.


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RE: The problem with labels

I, for one, would never use religion to distinguish an individual from a group (for example, to say "the Muslim that I work with"). I personally don't know enough about all religions to be able to, for example, distinguish a Sikh from a Muslim if they are both wearing turbans and I would never want to be presumptuous and offend them.

I, for one, would never use ethnic background to distinguish an individual from a group (for example, to say the Asian that I work with). I personally don't know enough about all ethnic backgrounds to be able to, for example, distinguish a North Korean from a South Korean if they are both in bodies that look Asian and I would never want to be presumptuous and offend them.

Yeah... it's pretty much the same.


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Hi Rob

Ps... Hi back Rob :) It's been a heck of a summer, that's for sure. But it's smoothing out some.

I wouldn't say "those husky kids over there" either.


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RE: The problem with labels

What would you say to distinguish a group from another, or a group within a group, when you needed to?


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RE: The problem with labels

:) silver... you've been on my mind!

What would I say? I'd probably pick clothes, height, placement, anything I could that is neutral. I don't think you're a prejudiced person at all Jodi. I think I am that extreme in avoiding it however I can. Overboard? Probably.


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RE: The problem with labels

Well, if you're pointing already...

If there are three groups, one might say "the kids by the basketball hoop", or "the kids in red", or "the kids to the right/middle/left".....

right?


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RE: The problem with labels

I, for one, would never use ethnic background to distinguish an individual from a group (for example, to say the Asian that I work with). I personally don't know enough about all ethnic backgrounds to be able to, for example, distinguish a North Korean from a South Korean if they are both in bodies that look Asian and I would never want to be presumptuous and offend them.

Not really the same at all actually, since they are all Asian and the term "Asian" is a term that is accepted by that ethnic group. Calling a South Korean "Asian" isn't going to offend them anymore than calling a Swedish person "White" would or a person from Ethiopia "Black". These are terms that are not deemed to be offensive.

Nice try though.


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RE: The problem with labels

Yeah, I agree that it can sometimes be the distinguishing features that people use to identify someone. It's the features that narrow the choices down that get used.

With one Asian guy in a group of mostly white people, you would use the identifier "the Asian guy".

With one White guy in a group of mostly Asian people, you would use the identifier "the White guy".

In a group of mostly short people, you might use the identifier "the tall guy". In a group of brown haired people, you might use the term "the red-headed guy".

People use whatever is the most unique physical feature of that person they are pointing out, be it their race, their gender, their height, their weight, hair colour, clothing... none of it is as a matter of offending or singling out. That's just the way it naturally works.

One has to make a conscious effort to attempt a neutral description if it is not the most unique identifier... but they are afraid of offending.

I've watched people who know I am native stammer over how to identify groups of native people in front of me. "That group over there...the...um...the...uh..First Peoples? Na-tive...um??"

It's kinda funny. Cute, really.


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RE: The problem with labels

I agree with HG, it's how humans think. We're tribal, or darn close to it.

At risk of trivializing the matter, I find the tv show Survivor interesting in this regard. At the beginning, one can see that the newly thrown-together people are assessing each other by standard societal totems: ok, this person is black (like me, or not like me as the case may be), these people are white, he is hispanic, those are the women and we are the men, etc. After just a few days though everyone in the "tribe" is a discrete individual and judged as such.


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RE: The problem with labels

What I find strange is that reporters cannot use the word black in describing a crime. In the city near me there has been a lot of crime involving black teens. But the newsperson will say the mugger was 6 feet tall and thin but not indicate the color of his skin. IMO, that's TOO politically correct.


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RE: The problem with labels

pn, that's exactly what I see happen. What should make people bond aren't the outside factors. Yet, we do. Whether it is internalized or acted upon in full view.

Lily, that's what I'm wondering about myself. I think I can be extreme and I may be in the camp of the reporters. People are different. They can be special. If you notice it correctly, and have appreciation of the difference, it's right. Avoid it completely, and you're ? I can't find the word, but this is the other end of the spectrum.

I also suspect others may not realize they're farther past the middle than they think.


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RE: The problem with labels

As for crime reporting, can you imagine if all the reporting of white color crime began with the racial description?

Bellamy Wainwright IV, the white hedge fund manager refused to answer questions, and directed all correspondence to his all-white team of attorneys: Dewey, Chetham, and Howe.


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