Labels dehumanize people, justify hatred

Our “traveling road show” culture loves to put labels on people, especially people who refuse to buy a ticket to their show.

As a retired reporter, I understand the value of tagging people. Labels make it possible to study and write about wide swaths of the population as if people were chemical compounds that act predictably under given circumstances. They also dehumanize subjects, fracture the nation and make implications that are often untrue and seething with hate.

The media would tag me a “white, evangelical voter” who, purely by having the label pinned upon me, means I also am fiercely pro-gun, pro-Trump and pro-Republican.” In fact, if one listens to them, I am to blame for Donald J. Trump being in the White House because I am white, male and “religious.” Accordingly, every societal woe and governmental failure since January 2017 has been heaped upon my back.

Truth is, I voted independent in 2016 and, given the pathetic options offered by the two major parties in 2020, I will vote that way again. I hate guns, regard Donald Trump as a dangerous narcissist and threat to our national security. And, while I once considered myself a Republican, I swore off the party after daddy Bush and his son took us into wars we could not win and racked up huge debts we’ll never be able to repay. The last straw was working for and being unfairly dismissed by a sneaky, all-Republican board of commissioners.  Therefore, I give my apologies to the researchers and journalists who are counting on me to vote like their label insists I will. This white, evangelical will never fill in another “Republican” oval unless it once again becomes the party of Lincoln.

Imposed labels cannot reveal the complexities of the human below the adhesive, and they are almost always derogatory. Accordingly, in a kind, all-inclusive culture like our own, they ought not be applied recklessly, but they are. Conversely, self-imposed labels carry positive connotations about the adopter while hinting at deep disdain for those who cannot claim the tagline, such as “feminist,” “university-educated” and “activist.”

Some labels, on the surface, ought to come with no hidden connotations, such as male and female. Unfortunately, because our culture has embraced transgenderism, one can get into trouble for calling a male a male when she (or he) thinks himself/herself a female. The omnipresence of transgressing transgender labels makes me thankful I am retired and don’t have to worry about misidentifying someone in print and thereby face possible dismissal and labeling as a “transphobic.” Nevertheless, I find it difficult to follow news stories that speak of a woman having a wife. I am left to wonder if the reporter got something wrong. But then I remember we are living in a new age to which my old brain has not adjusted.

Indeed, I have been labeled “homophobic” because of my antiquated Christian views on homosexuality. I want to be clear about this: I have no “phobia” of LBGT folks and, frankly, what people do in their bedrooms is between them, their partner(s) and, most importantly, God. One can dislike the LBGT lifestyle and still not have a “phobia” about it. I am not a fan of Lake Erie and don’t fish in it or boat on it, but I can’t deny it is there and I don’t  have “hydrophobia” in the sense that I won’t go near it or have an unhealthy fear of it. I can’t swim and, thus far, I’ve not been stupid enough to wade into it during a storm; I choose not to immerse myself in it, except to take a shower, but does that make me hydrophobic? According to Wikipedia, it would if the same broad “phobia” concept applied to transgender people were applied to water.

“Transphobia can include fear, aversion, hatred, violence, anger or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations,” explains the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

Wow! What a huge, all-encompassing swath!

Likewise, that same source states that homophobia “encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LBGT). It has been defined as a concept, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear and ignorance, and is often related to religious beliefs.”

That description covers a huge range of attitudes and infers that people who hold religious beliefs are driven by “irrational fear and ignorance.” A bit judgmental and, once again, assigns a given set of negative attributes to a person without even having a conversation with him or her. Yet, label makers hand out these titles like first-grade teachers pasting sad-face stickers next to the names of ornery students who don’t conform to the classroom di rigueur.

This culture, which uncomfortably feels more communistic than democratic, gives citizens little latitude for opinions that run counter to those embraced by the label makers. A slip of the tongue or poorly worded social media post, and you can end up being branded a “racist,” “sexist” or “misogynist.”

I’ve been accused of being the latter—hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women and girls (ever notice how rarely you see the word “misandry”—hatred of, contempt for or prejudice against men and boys?). This, despite being married and adoring my wife, who happens to be a woman.

My accuser was a porn shop/strip club owner responding to my objections to the proliferation of strip clubs and porn shops in the county. Ironically, it was my disdain of the way pornography treats women that motivated me to stand in front of that shop night after night and beg people not to patronize the place. It is still in business, and women continue to be degraded in this manner. Yet, the feminist movement, which evidently own the label maker that prints “misogyny,” “sexist” and SCUM labels, blithely ignores this injustice as a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, even to the point of killing her own baby.

If one steps back and takes a panoramic view of the cultural insanity, a trend become apparent: the culture police find a cause, usually rooted in a single event of discrimination or injury, and run with it to the media. Before the pandemic, the #MeToo movement embarrassed and disgraced many high-profile males with accusations and labels that led to job loss, reputation damage and shame. Certainly, males who make uninvited remarks or touch women in appropriately ought to be called out. However, no one seems to notice the hypocrisy of this lopsided movement. Why is it that when a man inappropriately touches a woman, he is breaking the law, but when a woman puts the moves on a man, he “gets lucky?” The answer, of course, is found in feminism’s extreme hatred for the male and disdain for normal sexual intimacy.

This focus on sexism and #MeToo has shifted, however, since the tragic deaths of several Black men, allegedly at the hands of law enforcement (the officers in the cases have not had their days in court, so I must use “alleged,” although cell phone and media trials have already found them guilty and ready to hang). The label makers have descended upon the scene and whipped up protests, looting, fires and even more deaths. The hunt is on for racists, dead or alive. We’ve not experienced this level of rooting out of societal evil since the McCarthyism era of the late 1940s, when a witch hunt (probably can’t use that term because it is sexist, but I will), led by US Senator Joseph McCarthy (who should be labeled “fruitcake”), tagged hundreds of otherwise productive and respectable Americans as communists or communist sympathizers. Careers were destroyed and the world deprived of the work and contributions of these Americans, many them falsely accused. Of course, we would not allow that to happen in our enlightened times.

However, the label-keepers in our universities, media and BLM movement are hard at work researching the lives of many well-known and honored Americans, dead and alive, in search of some writing or scrap of evidence that can be used to label them “racist” and thereby provide fresh targets for their educated hatred. The degree to which these excavations are going reminds me of the German Nazis’ efforts to track down any person with a drop of Jewish blood in their veins. Such efforts deeply trouble me, but the media and Democrats are drinking it up, providing great B roll as the monuments are toppled and centuries of history abolished.

US Civil War soldier monument in western New York town square
Monuments are erected to imperfect people who accomplished amazing things, but behind every monument’s story are the stories of many other people who made the honored one’s story possible. When we tear down a monument because that person’s life no longer measures up to modern standards, we destroy all the stories and sacrifices behind it. Cancel culture’s quick willingness to apply labels to people without really knowing their stories, is destroying our stories.

Skeletons galore are being pulled from the closets of Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, necessitating reassessment of their contributions to our nation’s journey. Just this week, the Capitol of Ohio, Columbus, removed a statue to its namesake. The weak leaders’ willingness to bow to the voices of a few and slay the town’s eponym without taking a vote of the people is a metaphor for the loss of freedom in our nation on this Independence Day.

Ignorant of historical context and the incredible odds against these fallen heroes, the label makers insist upon dropping these great men and women into the court of our post-modern culture. Judged according to prevailing standards, the anachronisms have no chance of a fair trial. If time ran backward, how much chance would our monuments to feminists have surviving the world of the pioneers, explorers and antebellum times?

Hatred toward the living is understandable and predictable, but this culture’s disdain for historical figures is inexcusable. We do not have a right to posthumously excise one inappropriate thread from a deceased person’s life and spin it into a monochromatic burial shroud. Nor should we trample the revered fruit of their lives under our revisionist feet, ferment the resulting juice with hate and bottle it to intoxicate the next generation.

While politicians pull on the chains that bring down these statues and monuments, they forget that their ancestors were part of these stories, as well, from the people of color who labored on their plantations to the soldiers who lost limb and life under their command. I find this offensive and disrespectful to all who gave their lives so that, ironically, the label makers have the freedom to destroy their stories. George Washington’s story is my story because my great-great-great-great grandfather served under him in the Revolutionary War. And the Civil War is my story because several of my ancestors served in and were among the 828,000 Union casualties of the war that eventually brought freedom to the enslaved, a fact conveniently ignored as monuments to these men and women are being vandalized.

sidewalk art, "tell your story"
Cancel culture ought not steal our stories, replete with bad and good. To do so is to dehumanize us.

Curiously, there are calls and plans to replace these destroyed and defaced monuments to imperfect people of the past with more monuments to flawed humans. Perhaps our generation can save future generations similar offense and trouble by insisting that monuments be raised to only perfect people, whose morals and actions will stand the test of time and moral vicissitudes. That search ought to keep the academics busy for a long time.

Two hundred years ago, society labeled and condemned the blasphemer, adulterer, drunkard, prostitute, drug addict, infidel, sluggard or murderer. All of these have taken a back seat to the labels of racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynist, male, right-wing wing nut or simply being white and of European descent. Our postmodern label makers are quick to point out the blind spots of others and award their labels with impunity and a gross ignorance of history.  They fail to see that each incarnation of progressive culture is blind to something huge, some unforeseen consequence of its activism, that one day will sully their story, as much as they would disgrace mine. Six months ago, our nation was woefully blind to the possibility of a pandemic, but here it is, sucking the life from our spirits and economy. We had a huge preparedness blind spot, and our culture has equally huge moral blind spots.

Our postmodern label makers are quick to point out the blind spots of others and award their labels with impunity and a gross ignorance of history.  They fail to see that each incarnation of progressive culture is blind to something huge, some unforeseen consequence of its activism, that one day will sully their story, as much as they would disgrace mine.

I am reminded of a stanza in Bob Dylan’s prophetic song, “The Times They Are A Changing.”

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Let me suggest the label makers’ blind spot may be the transgression of using labels to justify their own moral failures and hatred toward all who do not subscribe to their agenda. For example, the same label police who are outraged by the death of Black men at the hands of law enforcement dismiss the 295,000 abortions by Black women in 2017 as “a woman’s reproductive right.” Why did those lives not matter?

No one in the movement dare raises that question, but a future generation may look at the hypocrisy and finally mourn for the aborted lives, as well. The blind spot reveals a commonality shared by the pro-choice/pro-abortion devotees and 17th century racists that exploited the Blacks. In both cases, they used language to dehumanize the objects of their scorn so they could own a more convenient, comfortable lifestyle. The unborn, according to the abortionist, is not human, just tissue, just as Blacks were declared something less than human, mere property to be sold on an auction block and treated as any other chattel. The atrocities that the abortion doctor performs against the unborn are no different than those that were applied to the backs of the enslaved. But we justify the injustice because we label them differently. This is not a racist issue, however. It is one of the human heart, the times we live in and the people we empower to create labels.

All this labeling creates a false sense of security and righteousness that grants license to hate the racist, homophobic, pro-lifer, misogynist and transphobic, all the while presenting an outward appearance of inclusiveness, love and equality for all, except the unborn, the evangelical Christian, heterosexual, traditional marriage partners and white male. The application of labels assuages our disdain for the inconvenient truths of our times, which, if otherwise exposed, would reveal gross hypocrisies.

It is every bit as dehumanizing to reduce a person’s life, being and experiences to a single label as it is to be a racist; both transgressions ignore the sacredness of human life in all its glories and failures. Why is this glaring hypocrisy being missed? Why are the label makers not being called out, like Jesus did in his Sermon on the Mount?

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

(Matthew 7:1-6, The Message paraphrase by Eugene W. Peterson).

History is unkind to label makers. I am unaware of any monuments to Joe McCarthy. There are, however, many statues of Jesus Christ and buildings that honor the one who revealed mankind’s collective and personal “lost” and “sinful” condition. He came to show us the way to true peace and unity, died so we might have it, and gave us the sweetest labels of all: “redeemed” and “children of the Father.”

The ephemeral labels and accolades assigned by culture are fickle; the glue that holds the stickers to our names eventually dries out and the label falls off. The monuments are torn down. Only God knows the heart, and only God has the right to judge people’s motives and lives in total. And only God gives the label that will matter in eternity.

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God!” (I John 3:1, The Message).


Writer, photographer, video producer and film collector, Carl E. Feather has a passion for Appalachia and its people and landscape.

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