Undefined: Self-Identifying-Label-Only Zone

A Word to the Wise On The Culture of Naming (and Divisive Labels)

During my speaking tour last week, I was fortunate to enjoy a really interesting conversation with college students about the trials and tribulations of finding safe spaces on their campus. The main tension, is seems, comes from from having to submit to a specific label in order to feel included and welcome in monolithic spaces.

Similarly, on Twitter last week, I ran into a familiar back and forth between two people about the use of the word “feminist” which linked me to an article involving a heated comment debate in which someone thought it would be a good idea to tell people who don’t identify as feminist that they need to be “educated.”

As with many other solidarity labels — women of color, black, feminist etc — I support using common labels to reveal ourselves to others who have shared experiences and perspectives; but my primary identity isn’t pivoted around any of these and I wouldn’t take it too well if someone were to tell me that I have problems, or need to be “educated” because I choose to identify (or not identify) the way I do. See rant against being forced into monolithic blackness here. Read about my views against defining afrofeminism here.

After speaking with students about this issue, I decided to tweet (as I usually do when I need to write about something but am too lazy to work on a post) about “The Culture of Naming.” My main point was that naming can be as powerful as it can be silencing, and that we should consider the purpose of them before blanket use; for affinity groups, naming is essential, but for engagement/education, probably not so much.

Check out my late night thoughts on #thecultureofnaming embedded below.


Thoughts? What do you think about choosing labels based on the mission of a group (i.e. affinity or engagement)? Which labels have caused you to feel excluded or included? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!