Multicultural is a word you hear often in our society today, but it appears we struggle with understanding it. I know I do at times. And with each passing day it appears the term becomes even more confusing. In fact, it feels that the idea of identity as a whole just gets more and more complex. It’s hard to know what to say or do without risk of offending or hurting others.
Some voices proclaim we should be totally colorblind and everyone should just ignore any racial or ethnic differences. We should not use labels, we should not categorize….all of that makes a great deal of sense. After all, we were taught that it’s what is on the inside that counts. A great point. If you’re nice, I’ll be nice to you. If you work hard, you should be given the same opportunities. All lives are of equal importance and value. Again, all great points.
Some voices proclaim labels were thrust upon them and therefore, it is good to reclaim those labels….to reinterpret them. After all, imagining a world without labels is unrealistic. And labels aren’t all bad; they provide us with our identity and pride. For instance, I am a Christian Southern white woman. It is my identity. I claim those and I decide what they mean for me. This allows me power over my own identity and therefore, my life. This also makes a great deal of sense.
So what is best? Labels or no labels? I think it might be both. When I interact with someone else, I feel the need to recognize they have a gender (even though it may not be simple and binary), a belief system (even if that does not include a god), a nationality, an ethnicity, and all the other complex areas that make up identity. I cannot simply look beyond that because it makes them an individual and it colors how they perceive the world. Our religions, genders, race, and regions all come with rich histories that affect who we are today — for better and for worse. To overlook this is to make our stories and experiences bland.
With that said, I cannot allow these labels to impact how I relate, care for, and interact with others. I can appreciate the diversity and individualism while I treat everyone equitably. I can respect a history while refraining from preconceived and prejudicial statements and ideas. I also know from teaching school that equal treatment of every child doesn’t mean equally fair treatment of every child. I think that’s true about life, also.
I believe often problems arise from two areas: 1. When we try to simplify identities to strict labels without a recognition of the variety within them. 2. When we insist on imposing our idea of a label or identity marker on someone else.
For example, I get to define what being a Christian Southern White Woman is for me, but I don’t get to define that for my best friend who is also a Christian Southern White Woman. She has long hair and I have short hair. I can’t remember a single time in her adult life she’s used a curse word or drank alcohol, but me….well, you read my blog. You get the point.
Moreover, I don’t get to define what it’s like or should look like to be Black or Asian or a man or transgender. Feel free to throw out any other mix of identities or labels you choose. It’s all the same. It’s not my job to tell others they should or should not identify that way. My only responsibility is to recognize they are human beings and worthy of being valued and loved regardless of race, gender, religion….and to appreciate their uniqueness within that race, gender, religion.