Labels. We all use them to describe how we identify ourselves and others. We use them to describe our sexuality, gender, race, and religious affiliation. But recently there has been a lot of discussion of whether or not these labels are harmful. One side believes that labels shouldn’t be used because we’re all human and to be equal we need to stop differentiating ourselves from others. The other believes there is reason and a purpose to using labels.
But believing that it’s just the labels that cause people to treat each other differently is greatly oversimplifying the issue. Inequality is more affected by the people who have negative associations with the labels then the labels themselves.
In an article discussing the effects of labels, Sian Ferguson says “Without ‘labels,’ we don’t have the vocabulary to discuss oppression.” And she’s right. There are certain experiences you associate with labels like “black” or “bisexual” or “transgender.” They’re often experiences of disadvantage, discrimination, and mistreatment purely on the basis of those labels because even in 2016 racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are still highly prevalent in today’s world.
*Big tip here* Do not apply a label to someone who does not label themselves that way. Never assume you can figure out someone’s identity based on the color of their skin, their mannerisms, or the way they dress.
When using social media, whether as a business posting to the world or as a regular person engaging in online conversations, be aware of the labels you use to describe others. Be careful of treating all those who identify as a certain thing the same way, because every person is still different (basically don’t stereotype people).
Creating your own identity from these labels helps describe to the world a portion of who you are, what you’ve possibly been through, and how you perceive everything around you. If you can own your label, and wear it as a beacon of strength, labels can be incredibly empowering.