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!

  • http://twitter.com/danielrechel Daniel Rechel

    Great read!  I don’t like labels.

  • http://twitter.com/danielrechel Daniel Rechel

    Interesting how we use labels to help find “a safe space” … Why in the world don’t we have safe spaces to begin with?
    Any LGBT, POP, etc. should feel comfortable going ANYWHERE.

  • African Mami

    A label serves to communicate, identify, not explicate! Of late I’ve seen a rise in folks revolting against the use of labels, their main argument being, “I’m more than that!” To that I say, DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH! Somebody on the twitter land, mentioned, I don’t like being labeled a nerd because I’m more than that, I eye rolled that statement. A nerd to me tells me you are an intellectual. Of course, your nerdiness doesn’t encompass who you are as a person, or define you! It is just gives as a window into your life.

    The idea of choosing labels is great as far as I’m concerned, it makes things easier! For instance, I’d be more inclined to associate myself with a group labeling itself as “The Afrofeminist Sisters” as opposed to just a free standing feminist group, known as “The Feminists Why?! I am a feminist who is more interested in feminism issues as they pertain to the motherland.
    In sum, I’m just over the whole protest of labels. Labels are not meant to fit each and everybody’s preferences, DNA, and what not. Or maybe, I just don’t get the whole brouhaha?!

    Enjoyed the read girlie!!!

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