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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 10, 2005
Latest Update: September 10, 2005

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Index of Topics on Site Labelling Matters

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But Labelling also hurts me.

We do not live in an ethnically pure country. Thank God! But many of the labels are left over from long ago. We need to develop an awareness of the pain they inflict so that we can try to remember not to use them. The B word hurts as badly as the N word. No one likes to be singled out for derogatory remarks. And to adopt those words as part of our self image is far more hurtful than we once believed.

Labels as Pejoratives: the "N" Word

The following information was sent to us on Thursday, September 9, by Brenda Love:

"NAACP wins on "nigger" in dictionary.

"A Small Victory...A Giant Step (Thanks NAACP) There has been a change in Webster's Dictionary. Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), recently gave a speech at Virginia Tech.

"Everyone was informed that a landmark decision was made last week with the people at Merriam-Webster Dictionary. They have recognized the error of their ways.

"So, beginning with the next edition, the word nigger will no longer be synonymous with African-Americans. It shall be duly noted that it's a racial slur and not what African-American s themselves are. Along with this, all racial and religious slurs will finally be indicated for Please pass this information on to others. This change should serve notice to people, corporations, etc., that when individuals stick together to right a wrong, a change is gonna come. This wasn't just a victory for African-Americans, but for everyone. Now if we can only get some of our young black men to stop using it so freely...then we will truly win. Pass it along so we make sure that we all know the deal... "

The Pain of Linking Names to Unpleasant Characteristics

Consider the effect of the recent devastation of New Orleans and surrounding states on people whose name is Katrina. By the way, they retired the name, Jeanne, from the storm list because it was so disastrous last year.

What's in a Name, Katrinas? New York Times article by Allen Sarkin on September 11, 2005. Backup.

My name, Jeanne, was given to a devastating hurricane last year. And my husband never let's me forget how much damage "I" caused. Because the storm was so terrible, the name, Jeanne, has been retired. We probably won't see any more Katrinas as hurricanes either.

The Arrogant Knowingness of Privilege

Consider former First Lady, Barbara Bush's comment on the situation in New Orleans. Barbara Bush Calls Evacuees Better Off, New York Times, September 7, 2005:


WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 - As President Bush battled criticism over the response to Hurricane Katrina, his mother declared it a success for evacuees who "were underprivileged anyway," saying on Monday that many of the poor people she had seen while touring a Houston relocation site were faring better than before the storm hit.

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas," Barbara Bush said in an interview on Monday with the radio program "Marketplace." "Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality."

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway," she said, "so this is working very well for them."

Note the ease with which a lack of knowledge about a particular group, in this case, the underpriviled, can be seen as monolithic, as though they were all the same, and the arrogance of knowingness permits one to assume that the whole group shares the same characteristics and the behavior one might oneself find appropriate. Though I doubt that Barbara Bush would consider it part of her "privilege" to have lost everything she owned. She just figures that to her the "nice" amenities offered in human must be better than what she imagines they must have had in their own homes.

The U.S. and Islam

We're All Israelis Now By Mark Levine, author of Why They Don't Hate Us. Levine is on the History faculty at the University of California, Irvine, and is an expert on Middle Eastern History. This article, on will give you an idea of his approach to Middle Eastern History. He will be speaking Monday night, September 12, 2005 at 7: 30 pm at the Levantine Cultural Centerin Culver City.

Friday 05 November 2004:

". . . Israelis have responded to the civil war with Palestinians by increasing the dehumanization of the occupation, accompanied by a fervent practice of getting on with life no matter what's happening ten or fifteen miles away in "the Territories." The alternative, actually working to stop the insanity of the occupation, would lead to much more hatred and violence within Israel and between Jews than Palestinians could ever hope to inflict on Israeli society from the outside."

". . . Like Israel's Barak or Peres, in the context of a post-9/11 militant globalization, John Kerry offered Americans little more than Bush lite on the most crucial issue of the day. In America's increasingly obese culture, is there any wonder we chose SuperSize over Nutrasweet?"


  • the arrogance of knowingness - the certainty and willingness to act on whatever we happen to believe, without consideration for the fact that we know the context in which we live is different for every one of us. We are individuals, with individual experiences, and individual interactions with our specific context which are reflected both in our selves and in the way we see our own context. If we have a loving orientation to the world, then we become aware of our differences, and we do not try to impose our own perspective and beliefs on everyone else.

  • privilege - advantages that accrue to one because of one's skin color, one's family reputation, one's wealth, one's geographical situation, etc. Whites are often offended when told they have "white privilege," for they interpret it on an individual basis, when, in fact, it is a label. Whites are privileged when they enter a room where most of the attendees are white. The white blends in and is not noticeable. Where all attendees are black, the white would lack privilege because of his/her difference from the others. But the label of either "white" or "black" or "privileged" or whatever else is simply a label. It does not indicate any individual characteristics, just general unstated assumptions we have about the group we have so labelled.

  • late capitalism - capitalism that has very little governmental control over markets, a kind of laissez faire situation in which anyone can sell whatever they choose for any price they can get. Price gouging is a part of this; so also is subordination of the worker to profits, which are unregulated by either civic or moral authority.

  • qualitative and quantitative data and analysis

    qualitative analysis is an analysis that goes more deeply into the issue than mere numbers will permit. For example, a qualitative analysis might discuss the ways in which years of schooling are not really equal intervals, even though we consider them as such for purposes of quantitative analysis. The year in which one starts intermediate school has a major significance and separates those who do so from those who drop out before doing so in significant social and educational ways. So does that happen with those who enter high school and those who drop out before high school. And so does it with those who enter college and those who never attend college.

    quantitative analysis is an analysis that uses number or nominal scales to categorize people and to measure on numeric scales how they differ. Statistical manipulation is used to explain the amount of variation that can be accounted for in the dependent variable by manipulating the independent variable. For example, we can account for about 50% of the variance in scores on an achievement test by the scores our subjects received on an IQ test. We measure both IQ and achievement with paper and pencil tests, and the scores on these tests are correlated at about 49%. The variance we can account for is the correlation squared.

    ecological correlation - this is a term to express the concept that when we use paper and pencil tests we recognize that some people are having a good day and some people have a headache or are just having a bad day. We attribute this to random error. Meaning that such variations in scores will occur just by chance, so that it's random. It's error because the score doesn't really measure very accurately because there is something wrong with those who don't feel well, and something in favor of those who are having a good day. We hope that the two kinds of error will cancel each other out, and that the overall score will be meaningful for the group as a whole.

    Remember regression to the mean? Well, if some scores are higher than average, some will be lower than average, and hopefully for the group as a whole we'll get a reasonably accurate average score. But then, notice that our mathematical assumptions here tell us that the scores are not valid for the individual, but for the group as a whole. That's an ecological correlation. IQ scores are one of the best examples.

    What is Qualitative Data Analysis? An interesting explanation, in table form, that might be useful to you.

Discussion Questions

  1. Relating to Sociology 220: Analytical Statistics

  2. Suppose you want to write a term paper on labelling and its efffects. Maybe Brenda would like to write about the use of the N word. Suppose your teacher wants you to get some quantitative data. How would you do that? What would you measure? What would be the independent variable? What would be the dependent variable? How would you measure your variables? Suppose your teacher will accept qualitative data. What's the difference between qualitative and quantitative data? How would you use qualitative data?

    Consider that we don't have any data in the material in this lecture. But we might want to interpret what is meant by privilege, and especially by white privilege. So we might ask people what those terms mean to them. Then we could interpret their answers by what is called content analysis, or breaking their responses into categories, and discussing the categories we find. This is qualitative analysis.

    Or we might give people a scale from Strongly disagree to Strongly Agree, and see how they place themselves on the scale on each of several interpretations of privilege and white privilege that we offer them. This is quantitative analysis.

    In either event, we'll need to worry about how we choose the people we ask - our sample.

    • snowball sample - start either with someone you know, or with someone you think should know about privilege. Then ask them to give you other names of people you could ask. Then ask each of those people to give you the names of others.

    • random sample - start with a group of people, a class, maybe. Then ask every 5th person to answer your questions or place himself/herself on your scale.

  3. Relating to Sociology 370: Moot Court

  4. Pick one of the issues that stands out in the lecture for you. Then describe how you would introduce that issue as a moot court discussion. What would the different perspectives be for which you would expect positions to be taken?

    Consider white privilege. How would you define it? To what extent does it exist? To what extent does it matter or not? What about those who are still underprivileged, even though they may have white privilege?

  5. Relating to Sociology 370: Moot Court

  6. How would you explain Bolman and Deal's concept of clueless in relation to this lecture?

    Consider that much of what we consider the dominant discourse is accepting the hegemonic position of those in power without consciously considering our own individual and collective interests.

  7. Relating to Sociology 395: Love 1A

  8. Explain how Barbara Bush's comment on how the underprivileged are better off in evacuation than they were in their own homes reflects the arrogance of knowingness and a non-loving orientation to the world that we share.

    Consider that the use of the term "underprivileged" is a form of labelling, and recall that labelling is a form of structural violence because it relates to the institutional patterns of our system. "Underprivileged" is, by definition, of lower status than "privileged." Tragedy and loss of one's possessions is the same, whatever the label or status.

  9. Do Mark Levine's use of SuperSize and Nutrasweet act as labels? For what?

    Consider that SuperSize seems to indicate consumption of larger than normal amounts. How does that relate to "late capitalism?" Nutrasweet is a sugar substitute. Could Levine be indicating that we want our consumer society, even if it means that we have to use chemical substitutes to satisfy our consumerism?

    Remember that labels see the group labelled as monolithic? Considering the fact that only 51% of the popular vote was for Bush, is it reasonable to use these labels? Do the labels suggest a loving orientation to the world? Could we rephrase some of Mark Levine's arguments to include a loving orientation to the world?

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