Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Made in America: The Labels that Made Us

"I don't want to be labeled 'gay,'I want to be labeled 'a human who loves humans.'"
"I'm tired of being labeled. I'm an American. I'm not an African-American; I'm an American."

              I came across a poster with a plain white t-shirt at a LGBT youth center in my early 20's that had the tagline "labels are for cloths not people".  It would always catch me off kilter when I would walk in and see gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affirming language plastered elsewhere in the facility.  I remember at the time thinking... "Well, yeah...that makes sense..." in my own closeted little world of fear and internalized homophobia.  I, much like Raven-SymonĂ©, wished for an identity that was mine and couldn't be claimed by anyone else.  Because it was safer. As a white, middle class, able bodied, protestant male I could make that claim fairly seamlessly if I chose to. Over time I got tired of the false sense of security that having a white-washed identity provided.  
            Indeed, Raven states that too she is "tired of being labeled",  though she wasn't speaking generically in this interview. Clearly here she is tired of being labeled "Gay" and "African American".   Her word choice seems odd to me as she made no opinion about her gender and is perfectly happy to repeat that she is an American. Yet, these two identities; they are essential and inseparable parts of who she is, who she is created from, and who she is created to be.  These two identities carry significant history and a collective responsibility to remember the past and collectively act to balance the inequities our forefathers created. 
            Most importantly however, GAY WOMEN of COLOR NEVER  have a platform to speak about their experience and not only their experience but the experience of people who have similar stories but, who have to fight to be heard amongst the throngs and the masses.  She had a profound opportunity to tell the world that she is a proud Black Gay Woman who is in love and maybe, some kid in some youth center could have heard her story.  Instead, she chose to use her time to talk about how label-less she is. Meanwhile, gay kids are ending their lives, trans men and women are being killed, and black men and women are being gunned down by police and "do gooder" white folks".  
            Also, I think it is important to understand that to say you are an American, is not an innocuous statement.  American is, perhaps, the most loaded of all the identities because it is to say that I am willing to own that I acknowledge not only the indescribable beauty of our collective history, but the annuls of horrors as well.  
           We are who we are. We cannot change our genetic history nor can we change our heritage despite the sound bites we provide through social media or through the inner workings of our minds.  When we embrace our identity, especially those disenfranchised and oppressed, we turn our burdens into our greatest blessings.  It is our duty as social workers, to encourage all to be proud of who they are and where they come from and to truly honor what it means to be human.

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