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Opinion

Labeling proves to be easy, harmful mindset

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May 1, 2014

The glass is half full and you are an optimist. The glass is half empty and you are a pessimist. The glass is technically always full since there is air inside of it means you are a scientist or a smart-aleck. Saying that the glass contains some liquid means you are a pragmatist.

You could make a comment on the glass itself, indicating that you are cultured, or on the waste of leaving a finite resource just sitting in a cup, making you eco-friendly.

Labels are all around us. They, by definition, define us. Years of filling out forms has made us particularly susceptible to labels. I am white? Check. Between the ages of 18-23? Check. Female? Check. A student? English-speaker? A Cancer? Check. Check. Check?

Labels can help ground the world around us. For example, the label of high schooler gives you a decent image of the age and knowledge of a person. It would be hard to get to know a person without using labels, especially in a college. Our beginning small talk consists of labels. “What year are you?” “What is your major?”

If we didn’t have these labeling questions, we would have to ask deep questions like, “Do you like cheese?” And they would answer, “Why yes I do. My favorite’s gouda.”

Even this is a kind of labeling though because you can now label that person as a gouda-lover and who knows what dreadful connotations that has. Maybe they like watching films adapted from Shakespeare plays.

So labels have their uses. Our world would be confusing without them and talking to others would be difficult to say the least. We need labels to organize our lives. Male, female, cat, human. But labels can be bad too. Take for example the fact that the average person has about a 1 in 19,000 chance of getting murdered. Attach the label of transgender to a person and that statistic goes up to 1 in 12. Labels can be dangerous to acquire.

Labels can affect people in a number of ways. A “criminal” label can stop a person from hiring you. A “slut” or “gay” label can make people avoid you or even hate you without having ever talked to you. The label “crazy” can make people be nice to you but give you pitying looks when they think you are not looking. Pain, shame and loneliness can accompany labels.

Then there are people who fall through the cracks. They have no gender, single ethnicity or home. It is hard to say who they are. There is no label for them. This can lead identity issues that have to be worked out person-to-person. Some labels are good and some are bad. Some labels have a fine line between them, offering only a lose-lose situation to those who dare to tread there.

Have no sex and you are a prude. Have sex and you are a slut. Do not share your feelings and you are an emotionless robot. Share your feelings and you do not have a filter. Snitch and you are dishonest.

Black, white, yellow, male, female, anything in-between or beyond, Christian, atheist, Muslim, Type A, Type B. People and the law should not judge you based on the labels society forces upon you. You should only be known by how you want to be known. Think of a world without jocks or nerds. Everyone is different and so one label cannot and should not encompass the group.

Do not judge people. If you do, who knows what labels people will place on you. Will they see you or just the label?

Rachel Molitor is a student at UW-River Falls.