The Politics of Labels

15 Aug

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend – about a conversation he had with someone who is new to Canada.

It went something like this:

“What is this “people of colour” business?”
“Well, that’s what we call people who are not white” (note: my friend is white, his friend, who is new to Canada, is not).

“What about coloured people?”
“No! We don’t say that anymore. That’s disrespectful! Actually a new word that is being used is Racialized.”
“Racialized? What does that mean?! Is it a verb or a noun?”
Good questions.

This is a simplified version of the conversation- since my friend is well informed and aware of race and privilege etc. But what came up for us as we spoke about it is that the terms  still label from the white perspective. There is no special term for people who are white. Except white. Or caucasian. But somehow the rest of us get lumped into a broad category that identifies us by what we are not (we are not white, so we are People of Colour) or by how we are seen or maybe treated (through race which is also not white). Racialized suggests to me that something is being done to us – it suggests the negative impact of power and privilege and the experience of not being white in Canada, rather than describing what we look like.

It made me think: what if white people were People  without Colour  in comparison to everyone else? Seems strange, no?

And there we have it. The strangeness is a signal of privilege, and perspective. White still is the colour of power. And the interesting part of labelling is not just the words chosen, but who carries the label. If we had 2 labels – people of colour and people without colour, or racialized and non-racialized – it would suggest a level playing field. But as soon as only one group has a label that differentiates them, it indicates imbalance – and marginalization of some sort.

Ah words.

See more.

copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion.
www.beeing.ca

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One Response to “The Politics of Labels”

  1. Frances Olsen August 16, 2012 at 12:28 am #

    Well put! As a white person I’ve often thought about this imbalance in perspective, some used to say non-white again that “majority” perspective. Truth is it’s not a majority but a minority, but they (we) have held the power. But things are changing, slowly. Fran

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