Labels. It is a form of societal currency, and a valuable one at that, even though it is counterfeit currency.
Here is a woman who was a world leader for a few months. She was unelected, brought the ruling party into oblivion, losing all but two seats of its majority. She is making a decree about another world leader who was democratically voted into power by millions of people, and she is siding with a low-rung politician who obviously doesn’t know how her own country’s political system works, but is merely banking on mob mentality in elected positions. Even the New York Post points out the obvious: if it weren’t for sticking a label on the US President, the Left actually do not have a real platform.
So why do a bunch of yokel goobers get any play at all?
Someone stuck a label of “Prime Minister” or “Congresswoman” on them, and that’s all it takes. Their intelligence, competency, productiveness, and morality have nothing to do with it.
I understood this game when I was in the second grade, and it would be a lesson that burned into my mind, as the fires that impressed them on me showed me the way.
I was a very smart little girl.
I was a polyglot. I read Shakespeare. I read all of my mother’s psychology books, and she didn’t buy the trendy pop culture stuff, but the academic texts that I still have on my shelves. She had quite a few on educational psychology. I read them. I was also a girl scientist who not only made things, but also made things explode, like a television set. I took apart a stereo and put it back together.
I got great marks in school, and I would eventually go on to skip grades, but let’s get back to the Second Grade.
Red Hill no longer exists, but it was a typical middle class school. I am still in touch with many of those who went. The second grade was like any other in the late 1970s/early 1980s in Canada. Back then, the classrooms were open concept. There was no wall between my grade two class and the other one.
And yet, no kid wandered from one class to the other.
Like WKRP’s Les Nessman, the walls were there even when they weren’t.
You didn’t need a wall to have a wall.
One side of the room had an invisible label as did the other one.
And in my class, there would be three other labels that would divide us further: The Foxes, The Rabbits, and The Toads.
It was a case of brazen social engineering. The cover story was the designation was based on our reading ability. The students who excelled were in the group called The Foxes. The average readers were called The Rabbits. The ones who needed help and were behind were called The Toads.
The fewest students were the Foxes. They got the most attention, and also were given the hardest books to read and study. When it was reading time, The Foxes were called away to another part of the class first, got their instruction, and then the largest group, The Rabbits, got their time, but not as much per student because there were more of them than the Foxes. Their books were what people would expect a typical second grade student to read. The last came The Toads, and they weren’t as plentiful as the Rabbits, but there were more of them than the Foxes. They got the least challenging books to read.
I was a Fox. I was not surprised in the least that I got in that group. I was always asked to read to the class because not only was I most the literate and advanced, I understood nuances and could read texts with feeling. My teacher always made the comment about it to me, the entire class, other teachers, and my mother.
When we first got our group designation, I got into the group I knew I would get into. I was smart. Foxes were smart. I was not a Rabbit because I was usually helping that group before the Great Divide.
But there was one nice girl in the class who looked like a pixie. She was cute and dainty and had a very sweet and gentle disposition.
And she got designated a Toad.
I will never forget the look of distress on her face. “I’m a Toad!” she shouted to me repeatedly. I didn’t know how to console her. I was distressed about it, too. She knew what it meant, and so did I.
That’s when the label of Fox made me sad. For a Fox to be a lofty label, you needed other labels that were less attractive.
Who wants to be called a Toad by authorities?
They might as well have called the groups The Smart, The Mediocre, and The Dumb.
It was the absolute equivalent. They could have easily gone with neutral titles such as The Reds, The Blues, and The Yellows.
Colours are meant to mix together in order to form new colours.
But not animals.
And a little light went off in my head. If one group was a demeaning label, who is to say the other two weren’t?
The Rabbits were prey.
But Foxes were predators.
And Foxes usually were devious in fables.
They were usually villains, and were often too clever for their own good.
While other kids who were Foxes suddenly got cocky, I started to think about those labels very hard, and wondered why we were given them in the first place.
I wondered if the labels were meant to separate the students in other ways. I didn’t have the empirically-based scaffolding or intellectual maturity back then to test it, but I could see the label did begin to alter behaviour even back then, all the way to adulthood. Some of the "Foxes” became competitive with each other in later grades and were not as nice as they were before the label. Many of the “Rabbits” tried to overcompensate in adulthood trying achieve big things and crashed and burned horrifically. Oddly enough, I have no idea what happened to a single Toad. Somehow, the paths just stopped crossing. I don’t have an Up Series to keep track, either.
I was a smart kid, but somehow I knew none of the labels were nice ones to have: there was a rig and catch that would lure us into some sort of trap where we were to be primed, groomed, and educated to live up to the label.
Even though the label lasted for less than one year, I was always seen as a smart Fox, all through grade school and junior high.
Then my family moved to a different area, and the high school I went to had different ideas about me.
I lived in a nice neighbourhood as a kid, and we moved up, both figuratively and literally. The high school was waspy and upper middle class. Sherwood at the time had a vastly different demographic and I would feel it almost immediately.
Not from my fellow students who were just fine, but the teachers that had their labels and narrative ready on a moment’s notice.
The short answer is that what was going on at the time in the late 1980s was racial, ethnic, and gender profiling. A guidance counsellor said it to me in an exacerbated exchange with me because I wasn’t following what an Eastern European teenaged girl from a single-parent family should have been behaving. Apparently, I was supposed to be a dumb, boy-crazy ditz who did poorly in school, but as I had known many Eastern European teenaged girls of that era, most of them also did well in school. I was hardly some sort of anomaly, but the authority at the joint were hellbent on making me think that I was wrong for being ambitious and working hard for good grades.
I first suspected trouble in the ninth grade. I knew no one at the school, but ran for Grade Nine rep for Students’ Council knowing I would lose, but as my platform was that I was running to make new friends, I did extremely well. Students got to know me, and I got to know them. I had fun. Some kids got upset that I didn’t win, but the high point for me was the day I saw students wearing pins to vote for me — and I never saw them or made them. A few other kids did it for me without telling me — and they were really cool and colourful. That meant more to me than the actual election where I still got more votes that I thought a newbie could possibly get. Second place.
After that, I never felt like the new girl or outsider.
But I did feel something was off with some of the teachers.
More specifically, the science teachers. They were all white and male.
It didn’t happen right away, however. My first quarter I had great marks, and got into the school’s gifted program, that was run by the science department. The teacher in charge made it a point to tell me that somehow, that I barely got into it, which was odd as my average was hardly low. I didn’t know the program existed and didn’t apply for it. I found out shortly after that contrary to the teacher’s claim I somehow squeaked by, I did not have anywhere near the lowest grades of the group.
So, there was no need to make that sort of jab: I didn’t lobby for something I did not know existed. My grades were well within the range of those in the group. My mother didn’t bug the school to place me in it — and, in fact, always put a kibosh on it in earlier grades when the offer was made to me. She saw no academic advantage to it, and knew I was more than resourceful enough to find intellectual stimulation by myself.
I continued to do well as A students do, but the gifted program would always be a problem. For one, we were allowed to pick projects we wanted to do, and every time I did, the goalposts would be moved by the teacher. I would research on my own time as this wasn’t a program where you got credits, and there would be a lot of nitpicking to the point where I realized this game would keep going on.
Then came the accusations that I never finished what I started. It didn’t just come from the teacher who ran the program, but the science department.
Unbeknownst to any of them, I took a different approach. I did a couple of years research for various projects, and then incubated them so that I could use them in my courses where I would get marked and get a credit. It was in my senior year when I was told the same thing right before I took out every one of my graded projects, pointed out from the teacher’s sheet that far from me not abandoning them, I finished them, got A’s on them all and had not abandoned a single project. I asked about other students in the program and their batting average, and was promptly ignored.
I was labelled as — to my face — an overachiever who was “too ambitious” and even “too accurate.” I was doomed to fail because I just wasn’t smart enough — or a genius — as my guidance counsellor kept saying to me — all based on an intelligence test I took that even though showed I had a high IQ, they deemed was lower than average. I saw the results, and was getting increasingly angry at all the extra energy I was forced to spend on unnecessary battles.
I was also the youngest in my classes and was fast-tracking, meaning I was skipping a year to get to university early. I was getting flack for that, too, being accused of over-reaching, not having friends, you name it. The fact that I was social, in various committees, and achieving stellar marks wasn’t good enough.
It was not as if every teacher was doing this to me — far from it.
This is just the first three report cards I grabbed at random, for instance.
It would be incredibly deceptive and unfair on my part to say that high school was bad or I had nothing but horrible teachers. Far from it, but there was a group that said it to my face that they were going to make it very hard for me.
At first, this group tried to sell me a narrative that I was, in fact, a toad and not a fox. I pointed to my report cards and the fact that I already skipped a grade, and called it bullshit.
Then came a shift: well, I was a fox in some classes, and a toad in others, and the net effect was that I was just a rabbit. I called it bullshit, and then went a step more: if you are trying to sell me as as rabbit, perhaps the other students who got that label are foxes, and I will happily show them how to finish school a year early, too. And I did. My self-esteem is large enough that I do not have to be the only person in the world who accomplishes something.
I had no idea at the time that I was having a full-scale war with the science department.
All this time I was a busy kid. I was in the math contest team, yearbook where I would be editor, in a social activist group fighting for racial equality, did a literary journal on my own, and I even was on Students’ Council in my final year. I was winning awards and dressing outrageously, and my social activism even made the local rock station and newspaper.
And I was doing my own thing.
But the war was escalating. I wasn’t buying the fact that I was a toad or a rabbit; so then those handful of teachers decided to change the narrative that I was my mother’s puppet because she was some sort of academic stage mother who was forcing me to want to do the very best I could as an academic adventurer.
To say that this was a bullshit story of epic proportions is the understatement of the century. She had no idea who would write or call me. Sometimes it was a politician. Sometimes in was a major US magazine editor. I would write letters to all sorts of people, either submitting ideas, complaining, or praising them because I saw them as heroes.
This was all on my own doing, and even she thought I was eccentric, but she was supportive. I had big ideas, and loved learning.
At one point one of the science teachers told me at the beginning of the year what my Physics mark would be, and that was all I was capable of doing. My mother literally hired a nuclear physicist to tutor me, and he had me doing very advanced stuff and I was killing it. I told him that my mark would be nowhere near it because the teacher would rig my mark and make up shit. He was upset when my mark was precisely what I was told it would be. The point was to humble me so that I would understand that I wasn’t smart, and that I should accept this decree as divine fact.
I promptly had a blowout fight with that teacher, and he walked away — without sending me to the office.
I told him that I would make it in spite of him, and not because of him. As an aside, decades later, I discovered this teacher was just as awful to other students. It wasn’t just me.
But pissing on my mother was still going strong. I was told she was the one who was “corrupting” me.
I refused to budge.
Then in the final year in the final semester, those science teachers with whom I had a four-year war called my mother in for an emergency meeting — without me.
What they said shocked her, but vindicated me.
Can’t you stop her? they asked my mother. They did not want me to finish high school a year early, and flat out begged her to step in.
She said it was entirely up to me.
When she relayed the events, I nodded and then went back to them, pointing out that if they thought she was a stage mother — they would not have asked whether she could “stop me”, meaning they knew all along that I had my own mind.
So they were full of shit. They would have said other things, but they knew she wasn’t a puppet-master.
I skipped two grades. I was warned that I would fail the first year of university. Not only did that never happen, I graduated Summa Cum Laude, and unlike high school, university allowed me to become intellectually unleashed. I did all sorts of exciting and eccentric things.
It also allowed me to study something that had bothered me since second grade: those labels.
Experimental psychology was a subject I knew well even before I entered university. My mother’s amateur interest became my degree, and I was reading those complex books as a kid.
I was a Fox, after all. Read the label.
Of course, I never cared for labels, but I wondered about the psychology of them.
I took a course in Personality and another in Psychological Testing, and learned a lot about them. I saw them as rigs to confine people, and yet people always got comfort in getting them.
We had to partake in some of those classic tests, such as Draw a Person, House, and Tree.
I still have mine somewhere, and I had grown very label-savvy after my four-year war.
When I came time to do the exercise before the days where I could go online and cheat, I drew one that was rigged itself.
I figured out early that every answer had some negative spin to it. You couldn’t win at this exercise.
Or could you?
I quickly broke the code and drew mine in such a way that exactly one half the drawing contradicted and nullified the other half.
Later on when we got the answer key of sorts, I saw how bang on I was. I figured it out because one of my interests was in the psychology of sticking labels on people.
Anyone who could interpret the picture was always confused. You couldn’t actually read me from it.
I figured out labels were a form of propaganda. The connotations of labels are interesting: for every shallow praise, there is subversive insult. You are meant to agree with the positive, not realizing you will also have to own the negative. The narrative is fixed. You cannot win because it will not validate you.
So don’t play. That’s the only way you maintain your independence, individuality, and freedom.
And then I decided to become a journalist in order to study it.
And it is a profession that does very little else except label people.
But by then, I not only knew what I was doing, I learned how to win a war by not fighting in it in the first place. Do not be a player. Do not be a pawn. Pawns get labelled. So do players.
And then you are saddled with someone else’s rules, rigs, and narrative.
And your life and soul are no longer your own.
I am a person. A human being. I am someone who loves and cherishes foxes, rabbits, and toads.
Life is too short to waste on trying to label people or keep them down and back. Life is about exploring the deepest truths of the omniverse and all of the greatest loving essences it nurtures.
So, if you are stuck running on a hamster wheel because your teacher told you that you were a toad, you are not a label. You are thoughts, feelings, ideas, dreams, hopes, visions, and whatever other grains bring you to life.
Let go of the label and you are no longer anyone’s pawn.
And it is amazing how liberating a single act of quiet defiance can be…