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Cut and dried

Recently I was accused of being a liberal, to which I replied I didn’t consider it a slur. In the last century, women were given the vote and African-Americans were granted equal rights in the US, a large part of which was due to progressive grassroots movements. Great strides were made because stubborn men and women refused to accept the world as it was.

The casual accusation struck me as symptomatic of the lines we draw for ourselves, an Us v. Them mentality. In that moment, I was being dismissed because of a pejorative label someone else laid on me.

One friend of mine says he didn’t vote for Risa Hontiveros in the 2010 senatorial elections, because in his view, she is leftist, presumably a bad thing. If he had pointed out to me what was particularly egregious about this being leftist thing, I missed it.

Former senator Mar Roxas once spoke of the 2010 elections as a battle between “good and evil,” a term which was rightly excoriated in some circles. Did he mean to imply that only those who chose to be on his “team” were the good guys? Insulting, sir! I’m sure former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo doesn’t consider herself evil. Nor, perhaps, does former president George W. Bush. (I choose these two because I can’t remember the last time two presidents were the subject of such vitriol.)

We are all the heroes of our own stories; nobody’s the bad guy, or at least not all the time.

This habit we have effectively kills any notion of informed debate. Consider the following: “Ganyan ‘yan kasi bakla.”; “Lalake eh.”; “Mga babae talaga o.”; “Kano kasi kaya tanga ‘yan.”; “He’s soft because he’s European.”(When Dirk Nowitzki first moved to the NBA, hecklers called him “Irk” because he had no “D”.) Or, ehem: “Lasalista kasi.

To which I now add: “She’s a liberal.” We expect our labels to be no more and no less, the sum of our personality in one neat little package. Labels infuriate, and reassure us at the same time. No further discourse required.

In the US, someone may register displeasure with immigration and join in pro-choice rallies. Someone may protest the health bill on grounds of “personal responsibility” and volunteer for women’s shelters on weekends.

Former First Lady Laura Bush grew up in a family of Democrats; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was raised in a Republican household. We’re not prepped to receive contradictions like these, because many times we are all too ready to believe they don’t exist. In other words, our labels are moot in the face of someone else’s reality.

We do ourselves and the people around a very great disservice by falling to stereotypes in this manner. James Fallows of The Atlantic explains it thus in his blog post, A Primer on Bigotry:

“…One obvious truth is that the more populous the category, the less it tells you about any individual within it. Yes, “men” are all a certain way. But there are three billion of us, and Kim Jong-Il doesn’t have that much in common with Lance Armstrong — or either of them with Benedict XVI or Stephen Hawking or Lil Wayne. Another obvious truth is that the less contact you have with individuals, the more you necessarily rely on group traits — or stereotypes – for your images.”

Fallows is talking of the wave of Islamophobia hitting the US right now, with even respected members of the media falling to bigoted comments. Read up on Muslim life is cheap and see if that doesn’t horrify you.

It’s human nature to fear The Other, what we cannot understand, what we have not experienced but it is irresponsible of us to engender notions we think cut across a broad swath of a particular group.

It is irresponsible of some media outfits to repeat these notions without any critical nuance or background. Liberal “wusses”, conservative “idiots”, “radical Muslims”, “gays” (a pejorative in name alone) – let’s not drag down further the poverty of current debate.

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Happy 50th anniversary to The LaSallian! Eight years ago, I was privileged to work with a group of spirited, enthusiastic individuals honing their talent in writing, reporting, photography, and artistry. Long on hours, short on monetary reward; big on the exchange of ideas and the sustained energy a college publication typically brings. What’s another 50 years in the grand scheme of things?

Sarah Espina was Editor in Chief of The LaSallian in 2002 to 2003. It was during her year that The LaSallian was awarded Best Non-Weekly Newspaper by the Associate Collegiate Press (Seattle, USA). She is currently Head of Content for a mobile content provider based in Makati.

By sarahespina

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