Thank you to my readers who so eloquently pointed out something I did not address in my post “331 Days ’til 40: Defining Ourselves.” They brought it to my attention that, while I did a good job addressing the need to resist labeling ourselves, I did not address the reality of when others label you.
This is one of those days when I have to admit that I am posting with more ideas and questions than answers, and I welcome the input of those who are reading this post and can relate. There are so many labels that society or people within society place on us….. even subconsciously. From the moment we meet a new individual our subconscious mind is hard at work “classifying” the new acquaintance according to our own life experiences….. It is as though, by slapping labels and stereotype on people we make ourselves feel better because we can claim to understand and predict the behavior of this new individual. We start labeling and stereotyping….
- Black or white?
- Christian, Jewish or Muslim?
- Mac or PC?
- Chocolate or Vanilla?
- Republican or Democrat?
- Right wing or left wing?
- Gay or Straight?
- Butch or Femme?
- Strong or Weak?
- Smart or Stupid?
While some individuals may argue that these labels and stereotypes are okay because there can often be an ounce of truth in a stereotype, I struggle to agree. These labels are so disempowering and, more often than not, are used in ways that do not empower the individuals receiving these labels. I do believe that society’s desire to label and stereotype emerges out of a deep need for belonging and control. We label those around us as we seek to find someone who is not threatening to us, someone who may fit in a similar category.
“I think fitting in is highly overrated. I’d rather just fit out… Fitting out means being who you are, even when people insist that you have to change. Fitting out means taking up space, not apologizing for yourself, and not agreeing with those who seek to label you with stereotypes.” ~ Golda Poretsky
While the quote from Poretsky may indeed be true, what on earth do we do when others stereotype us? I sometimes feel as thought it is situation dependent. There are times I find that individuals are so narrow-minded, insecure and unreasonable that I draw the conclusion that they are not worth my efforts to attempt to educate them and assist them in dissolving their judgement. There are times when I agree with Poretsky and I believe that we must challenge stereotypes at all costs. There are other times when I realize I am not reasoning with a rational, healthy human being and I draw the conclusion that the best thing to do is walk away. I also hold firm to the belief that positive relationships are the best way to combat stereotypes and labels. Once an individual is given the opportunity to get closer to a person who stereotypes them they learn that we are all the same on the inside – we need food/ water/ shelter/ baths/ etc. When people spend time with me and my family, for example – they see we are as boring as the rest of the world and that helps to dissipate stereotypes.
How DO we reject stereotypes? Can we be an advocate for the powerless and commit to standing up to stereotypes, policies and labels that we know are wrong? Are we willing to risk a job or a grade in order to sacrifice for a greater cause and hang out with our friends?
“We are much too much inclined in these days to divide people into permanent categories, forgetting that a category only exists for its special purpose and must be forgotten as soon as that purpose is served.” ~ Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?
I LOVE this quote by Sayers – as people do label us for many reasons and when we they are ready to rid themselves of the labels there is great joy and freedom.
I believe education and exposure are the best ways to combat the very critical issue of labels and stereotypes because as people spend time with you, the stereotypes can crumble with repeated exposure.
I will leave you with this quote from Margaret Mead:
“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” ~ Margaret Mead
Today, 329 days ’til 40, I will continue to remind myself not to stereotype others and to stand up for myself when I am subjected to stereotypical labels and comments. I hope our society can really, TRULY learn to look past what they believe we are to the people we really are. I will involve myself in education to help our community understand that differences are to be celebrated, not ridiculed. I will be open to what others say about how to educate others in order to end labels and stereotypes, as I clearly lack the answers in this category, but still want to do my part to alleviate this discrimination.