The Limits of Labeling
Guest Post by Linda Workman-Crider
Your eyes would identify me as a white woman. You would not know that the color of my skin caused me to be the target of violence with bottles and rocks thrown at me and the group I was with while volunteering in another country. You would not know that more than fear, I felt a sense of awe and envy for the unity of the entire community that came against us for the wrong they felt was committed toward one person by the group we were affiliated with. You would not know that I have borne the look of children who had never seen someone with such pale skin. You would not know that I spent over two years of my life as the only white person among my co-workers, over a year as the only white woman, many years as the only woman. You would not know that I have been told, “We have no women’s jobs available.”
You would not know that my daughter was one of two white people in her entire middle school class. You would not know that when my daughter was still an infant, our homelessness was ended when a woman of color opened her home to us even though we were strangers only hours before. You would not know, to look at me, that my grandchildren are of mixed race.
You would not know one of my brothers, a white male and my only childhood protector, has spent most of his entire life in and out of boys’ homes, and now lives in a supermax prison with death row inmates. His life thrown away for drug use and an armed robbery that netted him less than four hundred dollars, while a child molester, sentenced the same day, received less than a three-year sentence. You would not know that I am no stranger to the injustices of our legal system.
You would not know that I was told that as a white woman I would never understand what it means to be a minority, that I could not comprehend the struggles faced by black women. While this may be true, it is only because I can only truly comprehend my own life, and even then I have experienced some failure in understanding the complexities of self.
I can understand the struggle, however, of the unfairness of life and the inadequacies within our society. I can perceive injustice, inequalities, and a lack of compassion. I have also asked myself, “Where is our humanity?”
If you saw me with my adult children or grandchildren, you would never know that I have spent time in jail for non-payment of child support or know of the time I had to make a choice between my daughter’s medical needs and keeping a roof over our heads. You would not know the abyss of realization that the choice I made to stay home and raise my children was the very thing that forced me to give the custody of three of them up. You would not know how guilty I felt when it was discovered the daughter in my custody had a brain tumor. You would not know the coldness of the look of the prosecuting attorney who accepted this as no excuse to miss a payment as she gave me the choice of pleading guilty or going straight to jail.
You would not know to look at me that the color of my skin and womanhood does not set me above the limits of oppression, the consequences of my poor decisions, or the injustice of our systems. It does not define me or my life. It is just an outer shell that I gained by chance, born into a citizenship of a country and without enforced religion also by chance. The person I am is on the inside, a mix of experience, mistakes, achievements, acquired knowledge, beliefs, and opinions all combined and whipped together in the different environments I have found myself in. This recipe of the person I am changed with additional teaspoons and dashes or omissions caused by living a life. It has been injected with the flavor of friendships, the nutrition of family, the zest of love and the bitterness of loss. I do not see how a couple of words or a visual appearance can be used to define me or anyone else.
I cannot deny that my outward appearance places me with the census group of white female. However, I dream of a day that we all fall under the heading of “Unique Human Being” with the only subcategories being, “Those who would cause harm,” “Those who would protect,” and “Those who wish to remain uninvolved.” The separatism of labeling and belief that this labeling is some form of definition of a person’s entirety needs to stop. Not only is it a major contributor to injustice, prejudice, and inequality, it is the cause of all hate crimes, including ongoing acts of genocide and religious warring. In reality, there is nothing separating “us” and “them” aside from a chance outer shell and our shallow tradition of labelling some small portion of ourselves as our entire meaning.
I sometimes wonder how much our political systems would change if we dropped the labels from our politicians. How many could run and win on their own merit? How many of us would vote for a person or bill that would previously have been considered an opposing party or viewpoint? One thing for sure is there would no longer be gerrymandered districts and our individual votes would have more power. We would, however, have to pay more attention to our government and those running for offices to know how to place our votes. We would have to pay attention to the separate individuals to find out their backgrounds, their viewpoints, and their plans of action. People who would have previously ran campaigns as Libertarian, Independent, or Tea party candidates could run for office with a much higher chance of success, as would those who would have represented any of the many minority groups. Our incessant need for labeling creates a separatist society that withholds privileges from those not within the “in” groups even within our own political system; a system that seems to make the word “diversity” mandatory in its speeches and yet represents it with a party of two.
All of us are “uniquely human” on the inside; in our experience, mistakes, achievements, acquired knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. There is not one person on this earth that is exactly the same as another and yet not one person will find themselves completely different from another either. It is past time we gave up our shallow labeling, our oppressive prejudice, and come to an agreement to live and act as equally unique human beings and to reform our society where the rights and opportunities of the one, are the same as the rights and opportunities given to us all. Our dreams of peace and equality will never happen as long as we allow our labels to separate and define us.
“Hello, my name is Linda and I have used a bowling ball to fix an issue with my plumbing. My personal four food groups are nicotine, caffeine, fat, and sugar. I have had a character based on me in a book. I dislike driving, large groups, and roller coasters. I enjoy reading but will rarely remember the name of the author or title of the book…”