The Power of Labels

I’ve been thinking lately about a conversation I had with the Department secretary a couple years ago. I’ve never really been sure why it stuck in my head. It was one of those polite chat conversations. She said she liked my sweater. I thanked her and mentioned who made it. She then went on a spiel about craftsmanship. Innocuous right? Yet, what I actually said was, “Thank you, I think it’s Indian.” Meaning that it was made in India. She then replied “Oh isn’t that the cutest thing. I’ve always heard that those people were wonderful craftsmen. I particularly admire that store down on Hunter Street where they sell moccasins. Isn’t lovely that they actually work now?” Meaning presumably the Mohawks from the local reserve. I this point I smiled vaguely and wandered away.

Still the conversation stuck with me. I am in general against the recent movement towards political correctness. I believe that it shuts down conversation. People spend too much time thinking about what to call a group and not enough time discussing the socio/economic problems of said group. That said Indians are people from India. Perpetuating Christopher Columbus’ mistake of 600 years ago simply makes us ignorant. The Natives of North America are as a whole either Native or Indigenous peoples and as individual tribes have tribal names any of which can be used to further the conversation about Native rights. While even this view makes me politically incorrect it allows for words that can be used to continue a dialogue rather than shut one down.

The same sort of thing is true over the recent re-labelling of disabled people as differently abled. The purpose of this campaign is to change the way people think about disabilities. The idea is that people with disabilities are just as capable of living and working in the “real” world as those who are not disabled. While I don’t think anything the campaign says is necessarily wrong, words have great power and telling someone they are disabled can be very damaging, I think that in many ways it takes away from more pressing issues. However you wish to label those with severe medical conditions what is much more important than a new label is access to medical care. It is much more depressing to constantly be ignored by a family doctor who has no time to listen to you. Or to be passed from specialist to specialist who cannot help because they are the wrong type or person. What disabled or if you prefer differently abled people need is a health care system that has the time to listen to what is wrong with them and the ability to deal with it. This is much more important than a PR campaign of rebranding that will do nothing but talk.

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