Labels Matter

I was ordained into Christian ministry on January 15, 1988. The next day an article appeared in the local newspaper to announce, “Woman ordained.”  My name was not in the headline and the denomination (United Church of Christ) was not mentioned. No one spoke to me prior to the publication so no personal information was included. The article didn’t mention that I had been called to serve a church in northeastern Connecticut, that I had graduated second in my class, or that I had a passion for biblical storytelling and writing.

Clearly the only newsworthy item was “woman.”  I felt as if only a small part of me was seen or recognized – and that many essential aspects were overlooked or ignored. I wanted to write to the newspaper and tell them that there was a lot more to me than they could see at first glance.

That experience has been on my mind as our country grapples with racial stereotypes and logos. A lot has been written and discussed about removing the image of “Aunt Jemima” from the syrup bottle and suggestions have been made that “Uncle Ben” could be the next figure to go. Why does it matter? There are more important steps to take in the battle against racism. I don’t imagine anyone’s life will instantly improve because a caricature has disappeared.

And yet – labels matter. Pictures and images shape our impression of a person and even of a race. When people of Color are widely depicted in advertising as subservient or passive that leaves a false and lasting impression.

No one wants to be judged by our looks or outward abilities. All of us are complex, multi-faceted, miraculous creations formed in the image of God. We do one another a disservice when we only look on the surface and assume that we know or understand that person.

Especially now there is an urgency to listen to one another’s stories and to be curious about the experiences of others. Before we are attempt to fit someone into a neat category, let’s pause and wonder – what else could I know about this person? All of us have stories, experiences, and histories that make us who we are. Let’s take the time to marvel at the diversity of our sisters and brothers.

Even in this time of social distancing, we can discover ways to interact with each other. When we are not content with just a surface understanding of one another, we will be on the path to forging deeper connections.

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