Labels: the Limitation and the Liberation

By Eleanor Walker

The nature of the world at the moment is a desire to quickly put people in boxes and put a label on them. These labels, whether they are seen as positive or negative, will undoubtedly have an effect on how people are perceived and treated. At times, labels can be hugely beneficial: they can provide a sense of identity, help people find like-minded individuals and can cultivate a feeling of pride. However, labels can also be put on an individual based on assumptions and stereotypes that are often unfounded. Additionally, once someone has taken on a label, or has been given one unwantedly, they are often asked to speak on behalf of everyone who belongs in that bracket especially if they are the only person in that room who identifies, or appears to identify, that way in the group. 

I have personally experienced this, and in light of the major recent coverage on the Black Lives Matter movement, I realise I have subjected people to this. I know that I have asked my mixed-race and black friends to speak on behalf of all people of colour and however much I didn’t mean anything offensive with my questions, I realise now that this was uncalled for and wrong. Each of them can only speak from their individual experience, which will likely be very different from many other POC, just as I, as a queer woman, will have very different experiences from other queer, lesbian, bisexual and trans women. 

This treatment of people as individuals and not as a member or spokesperson of a pre-assigned, labelled group is evident in Third Thread. In the studio, we see each other as individuals with hugely diverse experiences and backgrounds, and in our practice we value the things that make each person themselves. I may be a white, queer, cis-gendered woman, but in our studio I am seen as Eleanor whose lived experiences have created the improviser who is there in the moment. 

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