Labels, and why I’m tired of them.

All you have to do is put a label on somebody. And then you don’t have to deal with the physical fact. You don’t have to wonder if they are waiting for the Easter bunny or love Christmas, or, you know, love their parents and hate small kids and are fearful of dogs. If you say, oh, that’s a junkie, that’s a nigger, that’s a kike, that’s a Jew, that’s a honkie, that’s a — you just — that’s the end of it. – Maya Angelou. Find the entire conversation here on my most favouritest website: BrainPickings.

I like this quote a lot. When the wonderful/amazing/awe-inspiring Maya Angelou died earlier this year, there was a plethora of Maya wisdom floating around on the internet. This is one of the many important and well-articulated points Angelou raised about being a social activist type.

Labels are helpful in making sense of our often chaotic world (remember scientific names for plants?) but aren’t the be-all and end-all of a person or situation. Life is not neatly packaged into boxes and nor are human beings. So why the emphasis on this – from the LGBTQI community to electoral politics? As Angelou succinctly puts it – labels become the end of meaningful interactions and discussions between people. The allure of accepting the person as is, in their neat, allocated space, is too strong. We become closed off from each other. We are ignorant of another’s position in society, their struggles and as a result, we see some people as more ‘human’ and some others less so.


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