I am sick and tired of being labeled. It seems like there is nothing you can do any more that does not require you to put yourself in some category or another. We Americans have become a country of tag lines and sound bites and it has me furious.
The problem with labeling is that it often forces us, or allows us, to put people into boxes. The stereotypes that result seldom tell us anything really useful about the person, yet we persist.
Let me give you an example, first using ethnicity to illustrate my point. When I have to complete this part of a form, it becomes an exercise of “why do they need this information?,” “which block do I check now?” and “what will be done with this information?”
Culturally and to a lesser extent politically I am African-American or Black depending upon which generation you come from. My maternal grandmother, however, was half Coushatta Indian, and on my father’s side, an errant Scot swam in our gene pool back at the great-grandfather level. There are also credible reports of German, English, and Seminole (who themselves are mixed in many cases and hard to categorize) who have swung from the limbs of my family tree. On the African side, we have no clear idea where my ancestors might have come from, but with my family history, it has to be more than one tribe and probably from widely separated locations.
My current wife is ethnic Korean with some Chinese ancestry, so my kids are really mixed up – not in a mental sense, but, well, you get it.
After ethnicity comes the labeling based upon political belief. Am I red or blue, liberal or conservative? Well, my impulse is to ask, who the hell wants or needs to know? And, then I want to say it’s none of your damn business. I have a real problem with the red state, blue state tags. I was a teenager during the McCarthy Era, the age of the red scare. Red, used in a political context, means communist to me, and that’s supposed to not be a good thing. I also spent twenty years in the army and in war games we always used red to represent the enemy and blue to represent the good guys. As for liberal or conservative, that depends upon what the issue is and how I feel on any given day, and I suspect that is true for most people, except the rare zealots who always feel the same way about things regardless of the circumstances – the kind of people who, frankly, scare the bejeezus out of me.
Economic class is a really funny one. Are you middle class, upper middle class, upper class or what? Well, I work for a living, but wise investing, and getting out of the market at the right time has left me with a good cushion of savings. I also have no mortgage and keep all bills current – for instance, paying my credit card bill in full every month rather than letting it ride. On the other hand, I work for a living, and pretty damn hard at that. Does that make me working class or leisure class? To Bill Gates I am a poor schmoe, but to the homeless guy on the corner, or my brother-in-law who lives in Saucier, Mississippi, I’m a “rich” dude.
Give time I could come up with some more labels that bother the heck out of me, but I think my point is made. The labels don’t define me, and I resent it when people use the information that they coerce out of me on forms or questions to try and define me. I am who I am, and that might change day to day, even hour to hour, so don’t try to use the items on some damn form to decide who I am. If, however, you simply must put me into a category, please use the following labels:
Gender: Male, but I have a distinct feminine side. I cry during sad movies, or when I think about my friends who died in Vietnam – or the kids being slaughtered in the Middle East today.
Race/Ethnicity: Mixed, African-American, Black. Mainly, though, I’m American.
Political Affiliation/views: Purple, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left, sometimes in the middle. Live and let live. Government should not be too big or too small but effective, and it should stay out of my private affairs.
Religion: Started out as a southern Baptist, but as a young man, tried harmless cults (Brotherhood of Cristophers, for one). Married a Catholic, but couldn’t convert because it was far too complicated. Same thing with Judaism. Finally decided I was philosophically Buddhist. Actually, it’s a personal matter that is none of anyone else’s business.
Economic status: I make a decent salary and have no mortgage or outstanding personal debt. I save roughly 10 percent of my income, and have done so for over 20 years, so retirement will not be a major burden unless the whole world economic system collapses. If that happens, we’ll all starve any way.
Okay, I realize that the above won’t fit on most forms and most bureaucrats would fall asleep before completing the first one, but that comes closer to describing who I am than any of the forms I’ve had to do lately. If no one wants to hear about it, well, that’s their problem, right?
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial