Essays · Lifestyle

Identity Labels That We Need to Remove

*This is a controversial blog post, I know. I am saying, or at least trying to, that labels can be damaging and that we need to be careful when using them…*

Here are the biggest labels that we use on one another to try to categorise and “understand” one another better:

  • White
  • Black
  • Asian
  • Mixed Race
  • Foreigner
  • Straight
  • Gay
  • Bi
  • Transgender
  • Other sexualities and gender identities (because most people don’t know the lesser-known categories for sexuality and identity like asexual, queer, polysexual, pansexual, androsexual, monosexual, demisexual, polyamorous, the list goes on…)
  • Employed
  • Unemployed
  • Parent
  • Not a parent
  • Degree Educated
  • Not degree educated
  • Christian
  • Muslim
  • Hindu
  • Jewish
  • Buddhist
  • Other lesser-known religions

These are common labels that we use to understand people; except, I think they do more of the opposite. These labels that we use can get us thinking we know something about the person in front of us when in reality, these don’t mean sh*t.

And they’re so complicated anyway! Yes, I know that you’re black, but my obsessive, society-influenced brain must now know more – which black person are you? African? Jamaican? Other? Because let’s be honest, a lot of us think African or Jamaican (or Caribbean) when it comes to black people.

Okay, you’re African; for some people, it stops there because they know very little about Africa and so they lump all Africans together in one close-minded category. But for others, there are more questions: Where in Africa? Where you brought up Christian? When did you come here? Why did you come here? Is English your second language?

And the stereotypes and subtle racism comes into play then. When we use labels on people in this way, we begin to think we know who they are and how they live. “African” must mean this and that. “Black” means this and that.

We assume. We generalise. We offend.

Now let’s move away from race (perhaps the most complex of all), and talk about sexuality. In very much the same way, we find out that someone is a lesbian and we begin to think we know something about them. But I’m sorry, we don’t. No two lesbians are the same person. And to go further, should we then try to understand how a black lesbian differs from an Asian one? What about a black lesbian teacher who’s a parent that practices Buddhism? Are we category-confused? Do we know who they are now?

F*cking no!!!!

Get it yet?

These labels that we are so obsessed with are pointless in the end. My being mixed race doesn’t tell you anything about me except that I must have a black parent and a white parent. And even then, my saying that I’m mixed race without you seeing a picture of me tells you even less. Which two (or more) races “mixed” to make me?! And I’m black and white, but where were my parents from, though?

*Insert slapping the forehead emoji* *Insert exasperated shaking of the head gif*

I’ll make myself stop now because I know that there is so much depth to this kind of discussion and all I wanted to say, really, was that we need to be careful with labels. Be careful using them on yourself. Be careful seeking them from others. Be careful assuming those labels really mean anything at all.

I’m so glad that I know and love such a mixture of people. To use the above labels, I know black people (my family), white people (my friends), Asian people (my friends), gay people (my sister, and my friends), religious people (friends and family), unemployed people, employed people, well-educated people, not so well-educated people, parents, not parents, and “foreigners” (horrid word) {my partner, my extended family, my brother’s girlfriend}.

And you know what? They all have brought spark and wonder into my life in different ways. They all have something to give. They are all special. Some crisscross categories, too, because duh! And the funny thing is, every one of them likes watching films, likes eating pizza, likes laughing, and likes games…

Because they’re all just human!

I love them not because of their labels, or despite their labels. I love them for a plethora of other reasons. And it saddens me to know that some people would instead use their labels against them, and use it as a reason not to befriend them. They take that label and accept a list of things that they believe go along with that label. And it’s maddening!

These labels and assumptions can lead to segregation, hate, racism, homophobia, mental illness, miscommunication, war even, and more. But you are someone who can put a stop to it.

In truth, identity will always be super complex. Complex for us to understand about ourselves, and even more so when trying to understand others. If you want to know someone, truly know them, though, here’s my advice…

Just say “hello, what’s your name?” and let it go from there…

Because that person will show you who they are; not their labels, not there appearance, not who you think they are or must be.

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