Skip to content

Rip Off These Labels (Video)

Constructs and labels are difficult things to shake. They’re baked on, but are they baked in?

Prince Ea emphatically says, “No.” A 27-year-old poet and hip-hop artist born and raised on the North Side of St. Louis, he does more than call us to our senses — he summons us to our deepest yearnings. We are stewards of our identities. In “I Am Not Black, You Are Not White,” he implores us to cast aside the labels thrust upon us, to become the people we want to be as we strive for our individuality. For a father of two boys who is trying to raise men with resilience, confidence, and sensitivity, these spoken words are music to my ears:

I am not black. I mean, that’s what the world calls me, but it’s not me.

I didn’t come out of my mother’s womb saying, “Hey everybody, I’m black.” No, I was taught to be black. And you were taught to call me that, along with whatever you call yourself. It’s just a label.

See, from birth, the world force-feeds us these labels, and eventually we all swallow them. We digest and accept the labels — never ever doubting them, but there’s one problem. Labels are not you, and labels are not me. Labels are just labels. But who we truly are is not skin deep.

See, when I drive my car, no one would ever confuse the car for me. Well, when I drive my body, why do you confuse me for my body? It’s my body. Get it. Not me.

Let me break it down. See, our bodies are just cars that we operate and drive around. The dealership we call society decided to label mine the “black edition.” Yours the “Irish” or “white edition.” And with no money down, 0% APR, and no test drive, we were forced to own these cars for the rest of our lives.

Forgive me, but I fail to see the logic or pride in defining myself or judging another by the cars we drive, because who we truly are is found inside.

Listen, I’m not here to tell you how science has concluded that genetically we’re all mixed, and race in the human species doesn’t exist or how every historian knows that race was invented in the 15th century to divide people from each other — and it has worked perfectly. No. I’m not here to lecture. I just want to ask one question: “Who would you be if the world never gave you a label? Never gave you a box to check? Would you be white, black, Mexican, Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, Indian?”

No. We would be one. We would be together, no longer living in the ever of calling human beings “black people” or “white people.” These labels that will forever blind us from seeing a person for who they are, but instead seeing them through the judgmental, prejudicial, artificial filters of who we think they are.

And when you let an artificial label define yourself, then, my friend, you have chosen smallness over greatness and minimized yourself. Confined and divided yourself from others. And it is an undeniable fact that where there is division there will be conflict, and conflict starts wars. Therefore, every war has started over labels. It’s always us versus them, so the answer to war — racism, sexism, and every other “ism” is so simple that every politician has missed it. It’s the labels. We must rip them off.

Isn’t it funny how no baby is born racist, yet every baby cries when they hear the cries of another. No matter the gender, culture, or color — proving that, deep down, we were meant to connect and care for each other. That is our mission. And that is not my opinion; that is the truth.

In a world that has sold us fiction, please listen. Labels only distort our vision, which is why half of those watching this will dismiss it or feel resistance and conflicted, but, just remember, so did the caterpillar before it broke through its shell and became the magnificent butterfly. Well, these labels are our shells, and we must do the same thing so we can finally spread our wings.

Human beings were not meant to be slapped with labels like groceries at supermarkets. DNA cannot be regulated by the FDA. We were meant to be free and only until we remove them all and stop living and thinking so small will we be free to see ourselves and each other for who we truly are.

Share your reflection