Social Identity & Labels

As a lover of words, labels these days threaten to break my mind bank sometimes. Political terminology these days makes even me (a writer, someone who knows a few obscure words, someone who’s loves looking up new words, someone who’s college educated – to run my credentials, ugh) confused enough to not want to participate. My friends and family are starting to sound like the very dubiously worded politicians they despise.

People, and I have done it, too, love to tell other people to “go educate yourself”, but if your day to day doesn’t involve or revolve around the ever changing word sphere of social justice or politics, it’s ridiculous. We often accuse companies of having confusing language in their terms and conditions (so much so we sign them without reading it anymore), but we then turn around and create a seemingly impenetrable barrier for people who want to participate but can’t because they can’t keep up with the language. This doesn’t always mean they’re not smart enough or too lazy to do the work, but it’s also (to use that very same language) classist, elitist, and assumptive. It’s assuming everyone has the time, resources, and unnecessary level of intellect to understand the basic idea of treating everyone with respect and dignity despite our differences.

Labels were created to identify and eventually used to seperate.

As I’m not deeply into the terminology lingo world these days of what you call who’s identity, I can say being on the outside of it feels isolating. While I’m all about calling people whatever they want to be labeled, I’ve seen people get cut down for not knowing, not always through ignorance but just a lack of being able to keep up with terms having to deal with the endless streams of identifiers.

For example, I used to side-eye people for calling me African American for years because to me, that means an African to American ancestry. I went with black for awhile, but now I prefer dark skinned because however dark I am, I’m really just a very, very dark brown. I remember telling someone that once and they laughed at me because they thought I was denying being black. To me at the time, and still now, even my tattoo and black clothes are more black than me. Black is a color, but I understand it can be considered a culture as well. I’m not in denial, just being as annoyingly specific as the one who points out the contrast. Yet, why does anyone feel the need to tell me how to identify? Yes, the world may go on and treat me black, but when I’m with framily or myself, I’m not a color. I’d choose blue if I could.

Will I be mad these days if someone gets it wrong and calls me African American? Nope. But I might be irritated a little if I correct them and they decide to say whatever they want. We’re all entitled to our labels, but we forget we are not just labels.

A friend of mine once reposted a tweet with around 10 words. About 7 of them were so dense the meaning was lost. I had to go look up half the words and still I have no idea what that tweet meant, even after research. Once the social justice world no longer became my primary world, it’s as if I lost the ability to understand certain social identifiers. As a result, I understand why people get frustrated about political correctness and choose not to bother. As someone who’s been on both sides, I’m both saying look things up and ask questions to avoid ignorance and gain understanding up, but conversely don’t shame people for getting it wrong, though I understand it’s irritating to constantly explain yourself.

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