Monday, 27 April 2015

Labels Are For Jars

From random dialogues, conversations and thoughts comes insight, reasoning, awareness and an opportunity to share and connect. For example, a casual remark on the Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino led to this random dialogue on labels… via Beyoncé, gays, equality (or lack of), hate crimes and Oprah. 
Towards the end of the article, Silva Neves, a good friend and a psychotherapist at The Hudson Centre gives his professional insight on the conversation. (It's always good to have an expert on board)

                    Labels Are For Jars

Settinglong drive to Essex to see family with The Boy.
Stop at Starbucks to pick up coffee… Carmel Frappuccinos.
Driving on the A20. Beyoncé plays in the background. Sipping the coffee or rather the frappucino.
And then the remark that triggered this random dialogue… “Starbucks makes good coffee. But why do they need to give coffee such fancy names? Coffee is just coffee, isn’t it?”

Which leads toit's funny how we tend to emphasise that which makes people different. You mean like Beyoncé is referred to as a “Black singer/performer versus a singer/performer’
Or “ a Muslim terrorist versus terrorist”
Or "a gay marriage versus a marriage”
Or “ women owned business versus a business”
Or “a gay man versus a man”

Which leads to …how many people go round introducing himself or herself by their sexual identity and gender as in “Hi, I am a white heterosexual man or woman”? How many times have you heard Madonna or Katy Perry being referred to as white singers/performers? Never! And why is it ok to say ‘women owned business’ or ‘minority owned business’ but we never say a male owned business or a white owed business?

Which leads to… the media who perpetuate this practice (or began it) since every report in the paper will highlight that the person involved is gay, Black, Asian, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, and will also refer to their age, race and socio economic status. However they rarely, if ever, mention that the person is a white male, middle class, heterosexual and Christian.

Which leads to… the sham that is equality, that mainstay of our society, that word that is casually thrown around by anyone who wants to be seen as politically correct and that word that strikes fear into HR departments and politicians.
Equality = acceptance, yet as a rule we do not accept that which is not our “norm”. Mentally (subconsciously or not) we refuse to unconditionally accept that which does not accurately reflect or represent us and our beliefs, our values, our sexual orientation, our religion and our culture.

Which leads to… hate crimes. In an age where equality and tolerance is on everyone’s agenda, hate crimes are on the rise. Now that’s ironic. In 2014, the statistics are staggering with over 80,000 hate crimes being committed against race, sexual orientation, disability and religion. The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime (London) Stephen Greenlaigh sums up why hate crimes happen, “However far too often people become targets of hate crimes simply because of who they are or what they look like”. Seriously? Simply because people look or act different they should expect to be beaten up, vilified, marginalised and bullied.

Which leads to… being authentic. Oprah preaches that everyone needs to be their authentic self. If only we lived in a perfect world, Oprah! Well, it paid off for her, as evidenced in her now famous quote “I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I've become. If I had, I'd have done it a lot earlier”. However for many, the journey to their authentic self is filled with obstacles, heartbreak, despair, suffering and they may never arrive.

Which leads to… “I don’t like saying I am gay because the minute I do, something shifts, sometimes it is only a very very tiny shift but a shift nonetheless. And from that moment on I am labelled. My sexual preference defines me and who I am and what I do.”

Which leads to…“Why do I have to be defined by the labels society feels it needs to give me? Labels that they (society) made up and that they use to define who I am and what I am. I know who I am, I don’t need a label”.
Which leads to… “ Labels are for jars. People are not jars. I don’t need a label”.

Which leads us back to that random beginning..”Starbucks does have good coffee”. Agreed!

Silva’s insight to the conversation… I get that, in a perfect world, labels are only for jars. I also agree that in our world today, equality is a sham. And true equality would make the world a better place.
However, the psychology of human beings is quite different. From our very first moment in this world we discriminate. A baby discriminates between the voices of his/her mother to those of strangers. The baby will decide whom to smile to and whom to scream at, based on what is familiar to him/her. Why? For survival!
Human beings are wired to survive. Although mostly unconscious, the survival instinct, present from birth, is one of the most primal inbuilt mechanisms in our brain.
We, as human beings, like what is familiar and fear what is not.
We like what looks like us and fear what looks different from us.
So, putting labels on things, and people, make us feel safe.

‘This person looks very different to me, wearing strange clothes and eating unknown food. But it is OK, because this person is Black African and therefore I feel safe because I know what it is that is different, and I don’t feel threatened’.

Labelling a Muslim terrorist makes us feel safe because we can dissociate from it, and say: ‘it is them, not me’.

Labelling a gay man makes the heterosexual population feel safe. ‘They are different, but it is ok, we know why, they are gay, so I’m safe, I don’t have to question myself.’

Also, if we want to be very particular, one can argue that a Starbucks coffee is not just coffee, it is coffee that has the particular flavour of Starbucks. When we say ‘Starbucks coffee’ we know we will not get Costa coffee.

A gay person needs to have the survival instinct switched on because of so much homophobia that still exists. Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not, a gay person continuously picks up messages about the world around them in order to evaluate what/ where is safe or not.
Currently there are so many subtle and not so subtle messages coming from Muslim and Christian communities wanting gay people dead. Based on those messages, a gay person’s survival instinct will be discriminatory…for the sake of safety. Therefore, subconsciously, it will require getting to know a Christian/Muslim person before fully trusting them. This is not the case if a gay man meets another gay man in Old Compton Street (sameness = safety).
Society feels the need to label people because, although labelling can and does have a lot of negative consequences, it also has one major advantage: safety. And the need for safety outweighs the need to be equal.
I also dream of a world where labels are just for jars. And because I am optimistic, I would like to believe it is possible. I think that the way we can achieve this as society is by education and experience.
If we all allowed ourselves to experience the world of others that are not like us, perhaps in time, we can re-wire our brain and reduce our inbuilt mechanism of safeguarding.
But there is a long way to go. Most groups stick together in area clusters, not engaging with the rest of society. I have met many Muslim people who have never left Tower Hamlets.I have met many gay people who refuse to step beyond Soho. 
We don’t mix enough. The multi-cultural society is also a sham. We are not mutli-cultural. We live side by side but we don’t really interact, engage and talk to each other enough.

Of course, I am not saying that everybody stays in clusters. There are many people who do mix comfortably with other cultures. But, in my opinion, there is not enough of us doing so.
And there is also too many groups that promote the death of others. 

Unfortunately, these groups do have a loud voice. Some hide behind religious ideas, as seen repeatedly in the case of homophobes.
When there is a step forward in equality, such as gay marriage, there is a big increase in those voices, trying to fight it, which, in turn, increases our inbuilt safeguarding mechanism, instead of reducing it.

Change, however, always starts with conversations such as this one, between The Boy and his mother. The cynical part of me does not believe that I will live long enough to see a world where ‘coming out’ is not necessary anymore, with true equality and acceptance of all, as one human race. But the hopeful part of me wishes that The Boy (who is much younger than me) will see that world in his lifetime”.
** Silva Neves is a qualified psychosexual, relationship and couple's therapist. He specialises in working with couples and individuals who experience difficulties in their intimate relationships and sexuality.
 How do you feel about labels?
Share your random thoughts, you never know where they will lead to...

No comments:

Post a Comment