A Little Bit Different Labeling

‘These students all walk around with labels, almost like it’s written on their foreheads—Bloods, Crips, the crimes they’re charged with. For some it’s a matter of pride,” Dekker says. “The Savior doesn’t see any of us with labels. We could all walk around with labels on our foreheads for the things we’ve done. I see them as my boys, my kids.’1

Read an article where education changes people this morning while getting up and ready for work. Although I am highly inspired by movies like Stand and Deliver, The Freedom Writers, and other movies, I wonder how much alike are the people outside of incarceration to those within it.

What impacted my thinking was the term “labels.” In my experience, that term is used every day without mentioning it explicitly. Whether on files or how I see myself and others, labels make a huge difference to how things function. I wouldn’t know what it is like to commit a felony, but I definitely know what it is like to walk around with an unwritten metaphoric MARC record on my forehead: “assistant, white girl, daughter.” Then adding fuzzier labels, “public history major, graduate student, tuition-payer,” to self-imposed labels, “Christian, LDS, memory-keeper” to the labels of others that I may or may not guess correctly: “bright, organized, fearless and fragile, patient, multi-talented, hard on yourself.”

My favorite part of Dekker’s quote is that she sees people as people, without labels. Sure, you identify the name, and learn what you need to know about others, but I love that she looks past that and gives the benefit of the doubt. In theatrical terms, it would be “suspension of disbelief” but in this case it is “believing is seeing,” meaning that she believes in the good in others and does not dare them to prove her faith in them wrong. She hopes for things which are not seen (or labeled) which are true about the kid’s characters.

While this may be more of a moralistic post, I don’t see a reason to not include it in my studies of people, places, and change over time. It is a part of me and I am a part of graduate school. It may not be applicable to everyone else, but I never said that it had to be. I know that I continue writing about reflections from AHA, but I noticed the factions more than the coalescing continuity of the profession there. It would be unwieldy to try to have everyone together all of the time, but within the profession are stark disparate groups that are so far apart that some of them did not bother attending despite Chicago’s being a national transportation and cultural hub.

A leader in my grad student association wants people in different camps and majors within the department to come together and I agree with that thinking sincerely. I’m a label-er as much as anyone else. I’ll admit that I like some specialization, but that is less important than unifying people for good. So long as the unification treats everyone as equals is the crux of the matter. In a college department, that’s not hard. In a profession with century-old separations in field work and biases that are nearly inherent to internal structures and culture, it’s harder. We live in a time when people can either divide themselves against each other and focus on what does not mesh perfectly or focus on what groups and what brings us together. There is much more power in coming together and working for common good than in dividing and being dismissive. I am not looking to change everyone’s viewpoints, but to allow for change over time.

1- Tango Tanner, “Dekker’s Boys,” BYU Magazine (Winter 2012): page nr., http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2973 (accessed January 24, 2012).

Citations made using e-Turabian.com, footnote style without superscript functionality.

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