Labels and uniqueness

Following my previous blog post, a friend linked me to a thought-provoking spoken word poem by Prince Ea.

I suggest that you view it in full before continuing to read on.

Here is how it begins:
I am not Black
I mean, that’s what the world calls me, but it’s not... me
I didn't come out of my mother's womb saying, “Hey everybody, I'm... Black.”
No, I was taught to be black
And you were taught to call me that
Along with whatever you call yourself
It’s just a... label

As you can see, he takes issue with labelling others. You might interpret his piece as a little simplistic, tackling just race and skin colour. However, I do not think he is asking us to limit our perspective to that particular example of labelling.

Labelling can be in terms of gender, type of employment or lack of it, weight or body shape, disability, sexuality, hair colour, intelligence level, height etcetera etcetera.

I would argue that it is not labels in themselves that are problematic, but any negative connotations behind them or negative interpretations of them. Or of course negative labels in themselves.

Labels become a problem when we indulge in stereotyping or refuse to challenge our own preconceived notions or prejudices which arise based upon our experiences and how we react to those experiences. Put simply, our judgement is the issue.

Labels can simply be a means of describing what we see and what makes us different from one another, internally or externally. They can help us to identify when a breakdown in equality occurs.

However, fundamentally, underneath all the categories we give ourselves and others we are all human beings.

I do not think there is any harm in people adopting a label for themselves in order to describe their identity if it is something that they are willing to identify with. However, their identity or indeed one component part of that identity cannot fully be appreciated when narrowed down to a word or short phrase. Every person's experience is unique and varied.

I have been vexed on multiple occasions when asked to fill in an equal opportunities form. I am firstly frustrated because not everyone can comfortably and neatly compartmentalise their race etcetera (even if there is a free text "other" option) and secondly because people should be employed based on their individual merits.

When it is for a medical establishment perhaps it is only frequented by certain groups of people because of its surrounding demographic. Of course there will be companies and facilities which deliberately discriminate, and intervention is necessary in those cases.

Returning to Prince Ea's spoken word piece, his overall message is to embrace our uniqueness. To see ourselves and others as entirely distinct on an internal level.

He uses the metaphor of our bodies being cars that we operate. In other words our bodies are the vehicles of our minds and souls. As he says, who we truly are is found inside.

He also highlights that labels are problematic when we allow them to limit us, when they become a shell that we feel unable or unwilling to break out of:

Please listen, labels only distort our vision
Which is why half of those watching this will dismiss it
Or feel resistance and conflicted
But, just remember...
So did the cater-pillar
Before it broke through its shell and became the magnificent butterfly
Well, these labels are our shells and we must do the same thing

To gain the most fulfilment in our lives we must blossom in our uniqueness and do everything that is in our power to break free from that which we do not wish to be restricted by. Let us do so whilst admiring and appreciating others for what makes them distinct and refrain from using labels divisively.


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