Sunday, November 2, 2014

critiques of labels

This post was contributed by Ayanna Allen,student in my Fall, 2014, Social Stratification class. This post was later cross-posted to The Sociological Cinema.

I had to watch Stayceyann Chin’s video several times before her message began resonating within me. She critiques the notion that we must side with one group over another, arguing that we need to have a sense of understanding about each other that transcends differences. She does a phenomenal job in challenging the common claim that "if you are not for us, you are against us.” She well articulates that we miss the beauty of our being by living in fear of ridicule, and when "people get scared enough, they pick a team" that may satisfy others, but not themselves. Our need to box-in and stereotype what we cannot understand or agree with only limits our ability to see each other as common creatures.

Child star, Raven Symone makes a similar point in her adamant denial about the personal relevance of labels ( Oprah warns her during the interview that she will get push-back for doing this, and she indeed did receive significant adverse publicity in claiming the she is neither lesbian nor black/African-American. Such reactions to a pronouncement from a person who seems before her time, from a generation that believes they are ahead of their time, indicate how uncomfortable people are when group labels are deemed irrelevant for establishing personal identity. It also suggests associated questions, including: What is wrong about failing to identify as either black/African-American or lesbian? Does it betray those who are otherwise like her, but who do see themselves as belonging to such categories? Moreover, are we truly free to be individuals, even in a society held to promote the value of individual autonomy?

Of course, Stayceyann and Raven are not the first to renounce labels, and they will certainly not be the last. And it may well be impossible to rid ourselves of labels, but in my opinion it is not ridiculous to believe that every person has a basic right to define themselves and where they want to fit into society without being persecuted.

I wanted to share these videos because they strongly challenge the substance of what much of social stratification seems to be about. They offer the refreshing counterpoint that humans are dynamic, evolving beings, rather than “social types” who can be easily defined, sorted into categories, and kept in “their place.”

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