From birth, the world force-feeds us these labels, and eventually, we all swallow them. We digest and accept the labels, never ever doubting them, but there’s one problem. Labels are not you, and labels are not me. Labels are just labels. Who we truly are is skin deep. Who we truly are is found inside.
Labels forever blind us from seeing a person for whom they are, but instead force us to see them through the judgmental, prejudicial, artificial filters of who we think they are.
Labels Aren’t Just Idle Placeholders
Labels determine what we see. As essayist James Baldwin cautions in The Price of the Ticket (1985,) “As long as you think you are white, there is no hope for you. Because as long as you think you’re white, I’m forced to think I’m black.”
We’ve used the lie of labeling to define and separate people for millennia. We emotionally and intellectually enslave ourselves when we believe the lie of a label. Then we enslave others. Even forcing people to self-identify by labels reinforces separation, stereotyping, and divisiveness.
Rigid stereotypes of out-group norms follow. Such attitudes are harmful because they overlook the full humanity and uniqueness of all people. When our perceptions of different races are distorted and stereotypical, it’s demeaning, devaluing, limiting, and hurtful to others.
Idea for Impact: Let’s Stop Sidestepping the Human Behind the Labels
What we need now—more than ever—is an individual and collective shift from tolerance to acceptance (it’s possible to be tolerant without being accepting, but it isn’t possible to be accepting without first being tolerant.) In so doing, we can work to create a society in which everyone is valued, appreciated, and embraced.