What is the labeling theory and why does it matter in the fight for equality ?
As a UX Writer and copywriter, my job revolves around words. More specifically, I get to think about them, and more specifically have to choose them wisely according to what’s expected.
As a student in humanities / social sciences, I learned over many lectures that words are powerful and impactful. Whether it be in political philosophy, in philosophy of language, in anthropology. Words are tools, that embody ideas, concepts, and shape our reality, they aren’t in any case innocent as they carry their own weight.
In social sciences, the labeling theory embodies an aspect of this consideration. The Labeling theory is based on the idea that self-identity and the behavior of individuals may be influenced by the words used to describe or classify them.
In other words, if you’ve heard your entire life that you’re a thug. You might act like one and create part of your identity around this idea. It is part of a social construction. Society identifies you, or a category of people you identify with in a certain way, so you tend to act according to that, even unconsciously.
Psychologically it can be understood, and it might already have happened to you. This one time someone put in a box and you just thought “after all, he already thinks that’s what I am, I can act like that way” even if it’s not who you are. You just tend to “whatever” the situation and act in a way that you would have not normally. Because you think he’ll always see you that way and nothing you can do will prove him wrong. He made up his mind.
That’s part of the problem. It is hard to go against someone’s beliefs. But it’is even harder to go against your own beliefs. So don’t let them make you someone you’re not. Because you’ll start believing it, and it will stick to your unconscious and become a part of you.
What about racism?
Well, have you seen all around the internet all the afro-americans and black people more generally repeating to white people they don’t have the right to say the N- word? Don’t you understand why?
Think about it. Niggas, Negros, and all other names were used to call our ancestors (I emphasize it, legitimately, because my ancestors were enslaved) since the first colonization. And it was used in a pejorative, aggressive, and discriminating way. Using the most visible difference as a way of segregation, of division. It has never held any positive value or consideration in the mouth of white people. That’s why.
Words have history. Learn it.
Of course, these are different times and we do not live in the past.
As long as you’ll feel entitled to say the N-word “just because you can and it’s just a word” and as long as racism is still a thing, the N-word will always carry its weight.
The problem is more subtle and deeply rooted than that. Because of the words used to describe and categorize people. Whether it be related to color, gender, or sexuality, or actually anything that can seem a bit different from the socio-cultural norm, the words used are rooted in the unconscious mind of the majority.
Understanding the labeling theory to improve the way we educate people.
Children and people, in general, are influenced by media, music, social media, influencers, journalists, politicians and by books, and papers. All those years in schools, in the media, in many of the greatest tools of communication we have these days, words were lethal.
They were lethal because they labeled black people and many others. Keep repeating to a black people that he is a thug, he is more likely to become one as these words you spread are fulfilling him and anyone that hears them.
We need to understand that there is a circle with words. And we need to break this circle. Picture this. One day, a black person committed an infraction. A journalist shares the information in a non-objective / impartial way and attests “this black is a thug.” As it is relayed, or occurs repeatedly (as it occurs since the beginning of the time across the world, disregarding the color because PEOPLE commit infractions and their skin color has nothing to do with it), as it is repeated, the message change and become “black are thugs” (sounds familiar huh ?). Now with the labeling theory, we understand that more black people can more easily become thugs because “black are thugs”.
Imagine growing up hearing this repeatedly. You just “whatever” this because everyone already thinks that so you just don’t care and go with it, because unconsciously you believe it.
And that’s a circle. Created by words. By the media. By the politicians.
Don’t think for one minute that politicians don’t know how powerful words are. They have lectures on how to create political discourses. They have rhetorical classes to be able to speak without saying anything. They master the art of the words.
They are perfectly conscious of what they are doing.
Don’t fall for what they say.
On a deeper level, this has to be considered in everything we create and share. Our movies, series, books, schoolbooks, newspapers. We need to diversify the role models. We start to see more and more of that, and that’s a good start. But it’s a good start. We need to give visibility to the diversity of mankind, of our humanity.
Fellow creators, please be mindful when you create and ask yourself what could be your bias when creating something. That’s normal, we all have socio-cultural biases. But it doesn’t mean that we have to go by them.
Take a look around you, look how different we all are. How beautifully different we are.
Thank you very much for reading this and feel free to let me know how this resonates with you, i’ll be happy to talk about it.