I came to a grinding halt when asked to list not just the ways in which people are divided (on race, faith, gender etc.) but to list all the groups of each category. This is what I worked through afterwards.
Not everyone gets included. If I label, or list all the groups of a category of people, such as faith, I can’t include everyone as there are faiths I haven’t heard of. Those people are excluded from the category unless I include a group called “and others” which at least indicates I haven’t included everyone but lumps minority groups together in a way that doesn’t value them . The others are the people who get forgotten.
Who creates the labels? Do people with a BAME or LGBTIQ label self identify as such? These two labels in particular are very much imposed from outside. I’m not sure whether one would label it white privilege but it is certainly a bureaucracy that imposes it and that bureaucracy tends to be white. On returning from an LGBT conference a friend commented that she had learned to call people whatever they wanted to be called, rattling off a dozen names.
Sometimes the labels are wrong. White-British is not an ethnicity. Whilst I will call myself white and own that as a label, British is a nationality not an ethnicity and shouldn’t be there. Moreover I self-identify as English, not British, and that’s not even an option. So I feel excluded every time I tick a box that isn’t me.
What is done with the data? Listing out labels always takes me straight to monitoring forms. This data may be used to show that a small charity is reaching the “hard to reach” communities but it may be used for other purposes. The official classification of faiths includes humanism as a faith, so cumulatively the number of humanists is being used to increase the number of people with religious beliefs, as opposed to people who do not believe in a deity. That is misuse of the data.
Who decides your labels? I was told last year by a work colleague that I was a Londoner, and couldn’t class myself as Yorkshire as I’d lived in London too long and didn’t have an accent. Neither of which has anything to do with how I self-identify. He had decided.
Labels require sub-labels. Christianity should be divided into Roman Catholic, Protestants and whatever else there is. Not to mention Anglican or not, the evangelicals and the weird small cults that don’t fit into any broader umbrella. Where do you stop?
What good is the label? If my room for rent advert says “No dogs, no Blacks, no Irish” then the intention is pretty clear. What are we doing with the label to justify its existence? Do we just assume a generic stereotype along with the label? Who benefits?
Is it white privilege to ignore the label? If I choose not to disclose my ethnic origin, or to put myself down as human, the odds are that I am not skewing the statistics much because I’m mostly in the majority. But if you are in a minority, let alone a small minority, that refusal may make a difference to the results and who knows what that means.
None of this means we don’t have to talk about diversity, or that it’s not important. We need to name race, nationality, gender, faith etc. as categories that divide us and we need to be increasingly aware of how they do so and challenge that division and discrimination, whether it’s on a personal or systemic basis. We need to challenge our own prejudices as well as other people’s. Positive discrimination is needed to help restore the balance.
But, we have to be aware of all the side effects of labels and the emotions they generate. This hasn’t really dealt with the anger that has come up for me but I still need to work it through.