We are a nation of labels.
We are a nation of labels. It seems everything has a label. We use labels as a means of identifying. In our modern world of communication it often makes it easier to get ideas out in the open. It is often a quick way to express our individual thoughts.
Unfortunately, labeling may lead to false conclusions. It can lead to premature stereotypes. It often leads to misleading and incomplete information.
The political realm seems to have the worst case of stereotypical labeling of all. We hear the words “conservative” and “liberal” thrown around as absolutes with no room in between. A person is either one or the other.
One cannot debate the issue if labels such as these give an emotional and often limited view of each person’s ideas. Has it always been this way? Where did it begin?
Our political parties began with debate over the acceptance of the Constitution. Those people who favored the ratification of this federal document were known as Federalists. And those who supported the original States and opposed the Constitution were known as Anti-federalists.
It is not the purpose of this column to trace the history of our political parties. We have always had a two-party system, even when one of the two parties died out. Our first President, George Washington, however, warned against the power of political parties to divide our country into splintered factions. He was concerned about the lack of unity among our own people.
It appears that Washington’s warning has gone unheeded. It is amazing that our nation has continued to thrive all these years.
The use of labels has not only happened in politics. We see it used in other areas of society as well. Many times the use of certain terms or labels changes in meaning over the years. The word “gay” did not refer to sexual orientation when I was growing up. Negroes became blacks. And now to be more politically correct, the Negro race is African-American in their preferred position.
More recently, “Indians” is no longer the correct term for those people who were here before the Spanish explorers came to this continent. It probably never was the correct label for these long-suffering people. In more recent times, the word descriptors such as Warriors, Chiefs, and Redskins has also come into question. It is now politically correct to refer to these people as Native-Americans.
Throughout our history, various people have been referred to as German-, Italian-, or Japanese-Americans. Or now it is often Hispanics or Latinos.
Teddy Roosevelt lamented that he longed for the day when there would be no hyphenated Americans. Once again, the labeling continues.
Sometimes the characterization has become hurtful and demeaning. For instance, in World War I, German-Americans felt the persecution from other Americans since we were at war with Germany. In World War II, Japanese-Americans felt the brunt of domestic discrimination since we were at war withJapan. In both instances, there were few examples of disloyalty among these groups of people.
As we move into another period of civil unrest and increasing domestic violence, it is often easy to label entire sections of our populace. It is easy to call somebody “racist,” for example. On the other extreme, “police brutality” has been used as a reason for violent confrontation.
When I was growing up, I never experienced discrimination. I was taught a healthy respect for police. I am thankful every day for the job that they do to keep us safe.
Until we can experience some of the injustices that other people experience on a regular basis, we need to guard against making rash judgments. Labeling people often comes about from a lack of knowledge or understanding.
In closing this topic, I am reminded of a quote by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingerich. It goes like this: “If you are a normal white American, the truth is you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination.” Those words could apply to almost every group of people in this country at some point in history. In this writer’s opinion, we need a whole lot more tolerance and understanding.
Dwight Goering is a Moundridge resident.