Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work
I usually like to start my day off with reading news stories from around the world, hoping to capture a balanced view of what is actually happening. It is not always so easy to piece it all together. One thing stands out for me for sure. The presence of labels: when, how and if they are used to describe protagonists and antagonists in the stories.
We are uncomfortable with applying specific labels when we see large groups doing nasty things. You are more likely to see an avoidance of labels with Canadian television broadcasters or more socially oriented European media. The concern is about stereotyping, backlash, and creating fear. On the opposite side of the spectrum when the media, social movements, governments and others want to draw negative attention to a group – the labeling comes in really handy.
My Twitter feed was laden with sexist and racist exposés from journalists covering the Olympics in Rio. I also read about the hateful interactions of Arab athletes against the Israelis. Clearly, “Israeli” or “Jew” a divisive label, was preferred over a more conciliatory one of “fellow-athlete”. How sad!
Labeling is tricky. Gabby Douglas, the American Gold Gymnast had her share of labels thrown at her during the Olympics. A lot of them weren’t very nice. It was interesting to note how Gabby’s “blackness” was plastered around Twitter by black groups. Then to my surprise, I saw again in my feed an article about how Gabby Douglas credits her Jewish upbringing with helping her to succeed. Two cultural/racial groups wanting to make her their own and confer their label as a celebration of membership. For individuals who judge people on one-dimensional characteristics: where does someone like Gabby fit in? Since she is Jewish, does that mean she fits into the white privileged category that oppression activists would categorize, even though hatred against Jews is now considered to have reached the levels of pre-Second World War times? Or is she black? Here lies the problem with looking at human beings so simplistically. We are not one-dimensional. It is time to reconsider the limitations of dangerously divisive thinking.
Labeling has been on my mind for a while, and more so now as I connect with Americans. My race seems to always come up. Along with that, it becomes important for them to tell me their race when we are speaking over the phone. I don’t understand it, maybe I will in the future. In my opinion it is irrelevant, and so I wish my race was too. I don’t think there is a universal “white” or “black” way of thinking.
I am Evelina: a multi-dimensional human being and so are you. If it makes you happy to label me, why don’t you categorize me as Evelina, dog owner? I much prefer that.