Being Labeled

What does it mean to be labeled? Why do we need labels?

I just read a study for class that discussed the subject of “whiteness” and the lack of a definite label for whites, considering it an “invisible class” due to the ambiguous state of being label-less. The study took a group of college aged white students and had them rate their preferred labels, which included “White,” “Caucasian,” “White American,” “European American,” “Euro-American,” and “WASP” (White Anglo Saxon Protestant). The preferred ranking follows the order in which I listed those terms. It was noted that among the survey takers was an aversion to being labeled at all.

In reading the article, I thought I understood that aversion. We are just people, why do you have to put a label on me? Then I got it. They were stressing the importance of the connection between language and identity, and the power associated with labels. It made me think of the Dr. Pepper commercial called “Always One of a Kind,” in which everyone proudly labels themselves. Interestingly enough, this study remarked how the preferred labels for minority groups tend to be those that originiate from within the ethnic group, not from without. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Label yourself, don’t wait to be labeled.

“I’m a(n) <insert label here>.”

It would seem that the need to label everything, to put things into their place, has left us in generic categories: White, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, etc. Sure, those may be parts of our identities, parts that we are proud of, but they are not the sum of what makes us who we are. By labeling ourselves, such as in the Dr. Pepper commercial, perhaps we take charge of our own identities. The power shifts to us when we can own our labels.

If we have to be labeled, I know mine: I’m a BOLD SPIRIT.

So my question is this: What is your label? Do you even want a label?

*Check out “Exploring Whiteness: A Study of Self Labels for White AMericans,” by Martin, J., Krizek, R., Nakayama, T., and Bradford, L.


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