My Label

I find it a common concern among bloggers that labeling people hurts them and is dehumanizing.  I certainly see the danger.  No label holds more disdain that “the N-word,” which I avoid too because of how damaging it really is*, and over the course of my lifetime has become so dirty, even liberals and conservatives can generally agree not to use it.

That’s saying something.

I recall how shortly after Hurricane Katrina scattered survivors across the nation that suddenly there was great resistance to labeling the survivors as “refugees.”  This had not been a dirty word previously, and I still don’t get that one.  A refugee is someone fleeing destruction of some kind or another.  Even Jesus was a refugee, so was Tom Petty.

But that had me remembering that victims of sexual assault did not want to be labeled as “victims” either.  They wanted to be “survivors” instead.  It seemed they were victims of the label “victim,” which to my mind was a fitting term for someone surviving a rape.  Yet somehow that label seemed disempowering to the victim/survivor and made them feel perpetually stuck in powerlessness.

In recent years, working in mental health, there has been a big push against “the R-word”.  This one also has me a bit perplexed.  The word “retard” or “retarded” is a perfectly good word which means “slow,” but we were not about to replace “retarded” with “slow” either.  As with many diagnoses, especially with regard to mental health, there is a very powerful STIGMA which gets attached to these words and which is sometimes used in deeply hurtful ways.  And changing the culture surrounding the label “retard” has proven time consuming quite expensive too.

I used to work for MHMR, but the whole organization changed it’s name to StarCare some years ago, and you just think about all the stationary, all the website redirects, and building signs that had to be replaced for this!  Our local office still has some of the old road signs directing traffic to MHMR, because it is a long process, and now a bit confusing too!

In recent years there is a push to not label people living on the streets as “homeless.”  They are people who suffer homelessness, but they are not “homeless” per se.  So this phenom has finally trickled down to the streets too.

I hope my post demonstrates that I have a fairly good understanding of the issue with “labeling” people.  It can be very hurtful and disrespectful.  There is a lot of sensitivity about this issue, and I care about it too.

But labeling isn’t always a matter of belittling, disrespecting, and/or dehumanizing people.  In fact, the labels we bear function quite well for lots of purposes.  I am an American.  I am middle-class.  I am a man.  I am religious.  And depending on the context in which these terms are used, any of them has the potential to be hurtful, and all are labels.  But for the most part, they are labels I embrace readily, and they serve as short-hand designations in lots of exchanges, which aid in larger contexts and conversations.  Labels make discussions more manageable, among other things.

I have been thinking about my political label recently.  What label best captures who I am?

I am a “conservative.”

I believe this about myself, but as I look around at other conservatives, I sense rather strongly that I am not really like them.  In fact, I have a number of liberal sensitivities.  On a number of occasions, my conservative family and friends have labeled me “liberal” because of this.

Funny, I feel a bit stung by either label!

Still, I have played with this a bit.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Just recently I was cornered as a liberal in a comments conversation on a blog.  Wow!  I am starting to feel Schizophrenic!  (Oops, that’s another label that hurts.  It used to be a diagnosis, but now it’s a dirty word!)

What am I to do?

As I really think about it, maybe the best label for me is “liberal conservative.”  At root, I am a conservative, but I am a liberal one of those!

Someone reading this will think that makes me a “moderate.”  But I resist that one too.  Here’s the thing: I am not actually somewhere between liberal and conservative.  On issues such as life and death, I am PRO-LIFE, but that, in my view, makes me against the war!  I don’t have my PRO-LIFE ideals limited to the unborn, and I am not, strictly speaking, anti-abortion (in the reductionist sense), I am PRO-LIFE in the fullest sense – even opposing the death penalty. (Well, not completely.  I am for legal reforms on that too, which would all but eliminate it except in cases where the condemned is BOTH proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt AND confesses to the crime (maybe even reserving for those who actually ask for it).)

Wanna talk about taxes?  Suddenly I am more liberal.  Wanna talk about abortion, suddenly I am more conservative.

Maybe I am a conservatively liberal conservative.

Possibly I am a conservative liberal, but I sense in my bones that when I look at the outer fringes of the people bearing these labels, I am a bit more comfortable with the conservatives, or maybe I should say less uncomfortable with the conservatives.  And that may have as much to do with the fact that so many of my close friends and FAMILY would be found among the conservatives than among the liberals.

But at this point, I am mocking the labels a bit too, I think.

Retard is a good word which can be used, and often is, in hurtful ways.  But has it really gone too far?  And anyway, what happens when the stigma of “the R-word” catches up with “IDD”???  Do we have to take down all the websites and stationary all over again in five or ten years to accommodate those who suffer that stigma???

I’m just a bit dizzy with the thought.

Let me sit down a minute.

Okay, that’s better.

I am completely sympathetic to the idea that white people erase “the N-word” from our culture.  Too many people, a whole race in fact, has been murdered, butchered, enslaved, raped, burned alive by the “justice system” and a host of other sufferings all packed up in that label, and it happened at the hands of white men not unlike me.  But these others???

I say EMBRACE the stigma.

Embrace the suffering, the shame, the pain, the marginalization of these terms.  It hurts, yes, but it appears that even the label “Christian” started off as a slur.  The church embraced it over time, and it became a badge of honor.  I see my black friends doing the same with “the N-word” and in it’s own way that has begun to be a badge of honor showing resistance to people like me for whom it is off limits!  (That is a controversial idea, I know, but the phenom is self evident, I think.)

I embrace the label Christian and all the cross-carrying implied in it.  I embrace the label homeless and all the shame of it.  I embrace the label bum, tramp, and even weird (that one actually stings me personally).  And I encourage my readers to consider it too.

 

*   I recommend the small book by Randall Kennedy for far more insight into the pain and anguish “the N-word” in particular can and has caused.

2 comments

  1. T. F. Thompson · October 17, 2019

    And since the pc world isn’t all it should be we should be free to say or at least think that most today are really ‘fucked-up’. So much for words and hiding behind them. Drug dealers are no longer drug dealers, they are undocumented pharmacist. And among all of this for those who are leading us in all of this, I believe they are truly, IDIOTS !

    Like

    • Agent X · October 17, 2019

      Tom,

      I am not in favor of more “PC” either. It reminds me too much of Roman PAX rather than YHWH’s Shalom. A forced absence of conflict rather than a voluntary presence of harmony.

      In my post here, I suggest we EMBRACE the labels – in general. As a white man, I will restrain myself from both using “the N-word” or asking black people to embrace it, but I will admire those black people who do in fact embrace it. (Not that I favor them using it (even without the r).)

      I suppose the thing I should have added to my post is a word about LOVE.

      I am writing about LOVE currently. I posted day before yesterday on it and started a follow up post for it that is still in the works. And so I have a lot of thoughts on LOVE fresh in my mind right now.

      It occurs to me that the stigma and sting of labels is not in the meaning of the words used to label people and not really in the classification of them. I mean a diagnosis from a doctor is important, whether the resulting label hurts or not.

      I think the hurt comes from the disrespect inherent in their use, especially when the context of the label is intended to be disrespectful.

      But IF we all really loved each other, and I mean REALLY LOVED each other and SHOWED it sacrificially to each other, then the labels would not hurt. There would be no perceived disrespect. My diagnosis would be just that, and the classification of me as a Schizophrenic would be just that and not stigmatizing at all.

      Its hard to imagine it. But that is because we don’t really imagine a world ruled by LOVE. If we even just start to IMAGINE THAT WORLD, at least we will get new understanding. If we can then put it into practice, we can start to realize and actualize new creation.

      This is a Christian duty. Even if the tide is against us, we must persevere in HOPE that LOVE wins in the end.

      I hope that makes sense.

      Like

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