Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Lunacy of Labels

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Lunacy of Labels

Article excerpt

"We just knew that King and those marchers were going to take over the base," my friend explained. In 1965, she had lived on an air force base just outside of Selma, Alabama, when Martin Luther King's civil rights marchers passed by.

Imagine, if you can, my incredulity. "Huh?" I gasped. "You mean a ragged line of civil rights marchers was going to invade a military base filled with guns, soldiers, and bombs!?" I was dizzy with confusion over her bizarre logic and weird understanding of King's doctrine of passive resistance. I was equally dazed by the underlying fear that she must have felt back then and had carried with her for all of these years. As a white activist during the civil rights movement, and avid armchair historian, nothing she said made a shred of sense to me.

We all know them: neighbors, friends, family, ourselves--people we just cannot talk to about certain topics without igniting ignorance, without bottle rockets of racism or fear flaming through the conversation.

I sat there, mentally dazed by the specter of Dr. King viciously attacking a massive military installation. I tried to steer the conversation to other topics. Then, out of nowhere, she casually mused, "I'd like to find out if Obama is a Muslim. ..."

"He is not a Muslim!" I raged. (Another issue: If he is--so what? But I couldn't get that far. Not then. Not ever.) I stormed into the kitchen, adding, "He's been a member of a Christian church in Chicago for decades." I was not prepared for her reply: "Just because he belongs to a Christian church doesn't mean he's not a Muslim."

My fortified reservoir of rationality burst forth, releasing a torrent of labels. I marched back into the living room, madly listing, one finger at a time: "I'm a Muslim! I'm a Communist! I'm a Socialist! I'm a Terrorist! I'm Black! I'm Lesbian! I'm gay! I'm ... leaving the damn room!" Minutes later, she left the room--and the house (who knows why). An hour later, I was slightly calmer, but more aware of the racism lingering in my friend's words. Our conversation seemed one step away from her using the n-word. "Next time," I told my wife, "I want to tell her that I'm an 'Honorary Negro.' That'll confuse her!"

Many people would call this ugly incident just another blip in the culture wars, another snapshot of a polarized society. …

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