Opinion

Labeling and categorizing unfortunately are endemic to society

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To the Editor;
Matthew Gagnon’s parents should be lauded for teaching him “not to label people, and to reject attempts at categoriz(ing) human beings.” Unfortunately, labeling and categorizing are endemic to our society.

Mr. Gagnon’s utopian views (in Gagnon’s Jan. 17 column) fly in the face of the harsh realities of classism, racism, sexism, trans- and homophobia, and other forms of inequality that all of us, even middle school children, know are part of our social world. Like many other libertarians, he is deluded, believing that we can begin where he wants us to end up.

Where we begin is with a social world that has been riven by conflicts over identity — inequality — from the start. In every case, the identities were imposed by the powerful on the oppressed.

Whether it is the calculated mass extermination of native peoples, the refusal of the Founding Fathers to abolish slavery or grant women the right to vote, the Trump administration’s unceasing attacks on Muslims, or any of the tragically long list of other offenses against their fellow humans, it is the powerful who have made inequality and difference the issues they have been and still are, not the people living under the yoke of those labels.

Ridding us of identity politics is a wonderful aspiration. As a more meaningful start down that road than blaming victims, Mr. Gagnon should encourage those who are responsible for creating those identities and who have long been the ones hostile to difference — disproportionately native-born whites, males, straights, Christians, the wealthy — to do all they can to ensure that equal opportunity, fairness and open mindedness guide all they do.

A great place to begin is to start conversations with those not like us. Chat with people in the grocery line or a doctor’s waiting room. Ask the parents of that new child of color in your kid’s class over for dinner. Attend a religious service of a faith not your own. Be open and welcoming, treating others as you want to be treated.
Rik Scarce
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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