What is an identity label? It’s simply a label that you use (or that has been assigned to you) that says something about who you are. That “something” is usually a socially constructed idea or value set that society is/has enforced. For example: Being a female means the label of woman is assigned to you at birth (but you can change it!) and is held that you should care about your appearance, not be sexual and submissive. This IDEA is associated with the label itself. These ideas will probably come into your mind when you think of a woman. But, the concept of woman isn’t inherent on its own…it is created and given meaning by society.
Identity labels can be helpful in terms of them creating the ability to quickly give an overall idea of how you identify. They are typically just one or two words that give people a context to interact with you in. The problem? The context is often filled and created by stereotypes. Because of this then, we often find ourselves being judged. If your identity falls into a marginalized group, you will probably face some sort of shaming or negative assumption made about you because of your identity. You are signified as less and thus treated that way.
Often, this is when we run into prejudice and oppression. Oppression is a not necessarily outright, overt or even meant! It happens because of how we associate ideas and values given to us by society. Our brains compartmentalize information and form conclusions very quickly to know how/when to act, but this unfortunately perpetuates false ideas. When we see a black man dressed in dark clothing walking the streets at night, we assume he is up to no good because of the images we see in the media, the ideas we are given about people and the way our brain connects these notions. Black is bad and so is dark clothing and walking the street at night is shady. We then probably will feel our bodies tense as the person walks past us, even though there is no evidence that he is trouble. We assume it from foremost his skin color, which is associated with the identity label of black. Then all of the other contexts of the situation also come into effect as well as images we see and the ideas we get from those around us. This then creates the fear that we feel.
The fear comes from how our brains are wired and it’s very hard for even the most conscious person to control. That doesn’t mean we can’t make an effort, though! The best way to go about negating these stereotypes and false ideas is to be critical. Think about how the books you read, TV shows you watch, social media you use and the video games you play contribute to your ideas and perspectives. Notice when you are consuming these various forms of media what your ideas are and how the reflect the ideas/images in the actual media. Notice your friends attitudes and how they change yours. Think about how your school or work activities do the same. Use this critical thinking to transcend these ideas and liberate yourself from their oppressive nature. Do everything in your power to change your ideas about people and catch yourself when you are making a judgement. Use your identity labels with pride (if you so choose) and never feel like you should be treated as less because of them. Treat people the way you want to be treated and don’t made assumptions when you wouldn’t want others to do the same for you. Basically, treat people with the respect they deserve and be critical in your actions so that you can do so.