Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about labels. In my country, the U.S., there’s been a lot of attention on the race of our newly elected president, Barack Obama. Hailed as the first African-American president, he is the offspring of a white American and a Black Kenyan, making him officially a mulatto, which is an archaic term which has always made me uncomfortable. African-American is itself a bizarre term, as many black Americans have little or no connection to their African heritage, just as many Americans of European descent would be surprised to be referred to as Swedish-American or German-American (and this is not even to address the lumping of all Africans into one cultural group).
For my part, I believe you should respect whatever labels people give themselves. If Obama refers to himself as black, I have no issues calling him black. Certainly, the racist rule has always been that it doesn’t matter the amount of white heritage, one drop of black blood makes a person black. In my opinion, the novelty of Obama’s presidency has little to do with his race and much more to do with his post-race, post-partisan candidacy and his ability to reach out to his foes. The significance of his multi-racial heritage is not lost on me, but regardless of his relative blackness, he brings a new type of politics to my country.
My reverence for people labeling themselves comes from my association with the queer community, which can be an affirming group for those who don’t fit in as straight, but isolating for those that don’t fit in as gay. (Discuss this and other label-related topics every Friday at noon in SUB rm. 215 at Label-Free Fridays, a Pride-run, everyone-welcome, snack-filled group!) Labels change throughout our lifetime, they depend on our situation and to whom we are talking.
When asked why I came to UBC from the U.S. to study, I give a different answer based on the questioner’s perceived age and political leanings, and especially whether or not they are a customs officials. No, I didn’t just come here for the engineering school, as I tell older, stereotypically more conservative folk. Nor did I really just want to escape the U.S. Like most people my age, I wanted a new experience, new scenery, some kind of an adventure. Like most people my age, I made a choice which would later make sense to me as I learned more about myself in my new home, but when I made it was based only on a slight inkling of what I wanted for my future.
So by way of introduction, here are a few of the labels I loosely ascribe to myself (depending on who is asking):
Gender Presentation: Femme
Sexual Orientation: Not straight, some kind of queer
Religious Views: Atheist, Culturally Jewish
Nationality and Cultural Origin: American, Westerner, ruralite
Political Views: Progressive, Marxist
Career Aspiration: Civil Engineer, Pastry Chef
And some labels I shun, despite our similarity in views/practices:
Feminist, environmentalist, liberal, bisexual
What labels do you embrace/shun?