LABELING


By Estelle Nora Harwit Amrani
No part of this article may be copied or reproduced
without my written permission.



This article could be seen as being very controversial. It might upset some people, it might give some people something new to think about. It is a way of me getting out what's been on my mind for many years. I can't say it's perfectly written, or that it is politically correct or incorrect. It just is what it is, a sharing of my thoughts, and I welcome your comments. (Just to make the record straight, this article is not written with any hatred or hostility.)

The topic of this article is "Labels." We use so many labels in identifying ourselves, and some of them just aren't true, and I think most of these should be kept in the past. The following give some examples of why I believe this to be so.

A few years ago I asked a woman why she and others chose to use the term African-American to describe themselves. In the past, the term Negro (for the Negroid race) was the norm. Then black became the "in" term. There are many other slang and derogatory terms, but they aren't relevant to this discussion because what I'm focusing on is how people choose to be identified nationally, in forms, in schools, in papers, etc., in America. The current politically correct term is African-American. Okay, so this woman, of whom I asked that question, finally got the thoughts together in her mind on this term and responded that African-American refers to blacks whose heritage goes back to Africa. But because there are few records of where their families originated, they can't say for sure if they are from Kenya, or Mozambique, or Egypt, or Libya, etc. So they generalize by saying African, and that gives them pride. I can dig that to a point.

I think this term African-American isn't accurate at all, and should be dispensed with because African-American is generally accepted to be about black people. What about all the Caucasian African-Americans who were born in Africa, came to America and became American citizens? (Ex. Teresa Heinz Kerry, Charlize Theron) Are blacks prejudiced against all whites from Africa, and only blacks can own the term African-American? How would you know, filling out a form, if the person was black or white? Isn't using the term in this way creating separation and biases? I think it does.

Have all African-Americans come from Africa in this life? My parents came from another country, but I was born in America. My genealogical heritage goes back to this other country, but I don't say I'm that country plus American. I say I'm an American. (In my family we all said we were also citizens of the world, but the reality is that some of the world wouldn't accept us as their citizens.) My parents could have the hyphenated term because it's true. People who have dual citizenship could use it. Should we all go back generations and list all of our genealogical connections to every nation and list them? Isn't that what "African-Americans" are doing?

We see the same kind of confusion when we refer to only some people as Native Americans. Aren't all people born in America Native Americans. But no, this refers only to those who used to be called (and are still called by some) American Indian. We know the term Indian is a lie, too, because these people aren't from India, and does their name really mean "in god"? American Indians usually prefer to be identified with their tribe, but there also are prejudiced Indians who call half-whites and half-Indians "Apple," (red on the outside, but white on the inside.) Who is free from labels and biases? Does this go on in other countries? Do people identify themselves geographically, nationally, racially, geologically, religiously?

Tonight at the Democratic National Convention I watched and listened as certain politicians were labeled with being the first "African-American" this or that. This kind of thing ONLY referred to them, not whites, not Asians (that I could tell). Why is this necessary? Who is requesting this distinction?

On applications and polls, on all kinds of forms, people are asked to check off the box which identifies them as a particular race or religion. Asian-Americans were all of them born in an Asian nation, or did their ancestors come to America from one? Latinos? Come on, why not just say, "I'm an American" if you really are an American? The rest is racial and geneological, wouldn't you say? What good do the other labels do for us? If we know our heritage (and not everybody does), why does it have to become a political tool, a way to separate people in America? Does it have something to do with Affirmative Action, equal rights? In my opinion, it CREATES division, reverse discrimination, and plain old prejudice because if you believe that people are people (no matter what race or country of origin, or religion, or gender), isn't that enough for an American. And wouldn't it be defeating the entire point of equality? Who would gain from that? (I think you can come up with some answers to that one.) I think "people" or "human beings" are the best term for us all.


© Copyright 2004, Estelle Nora Harwit Amrani



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