You are not a label, you are a sentence (poem)

4 Mar

I used to see labels – until I became one
Where I allowed that one label to pigeonhole and mark me
And devalue my identity and tell me, I just wasn’t worth it.

*An excerpt from my poem, Labels, which you can see below.

Labels can be helpful to understand objects, issues and people. However, they can also been used in negative ways to stereotype, limit and stifle those around us.

We have all used labels. Some labels have positive qualities associated with them, while others bring insecurities, shame and fear. These boxes can limit, and prevent people from being who they are and who they can be.

I don't like black and white boxes. (Terri Figueiredo)

I don’t like boxes, especially black and white ones. (Terri Figueiredo)

How often do we put people and communities into boxes, labels and stereotypes without hearing their stories? 

We do it all the time. It’s easy, convenient and often lazy.

And you know, labels just let us be lazy
Because we can’t see past the hazy label
And realize life is more grey than black and white
That people are more than black or white or brown or red or yellow
They are people, and should not be hated for being different.
And one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was when my friend said,
“Jenna, you are not a label. You are a sentence. Actually, you’re a few sentences.”

I shared this beautiful quote during my TEDTalk (Allison Smith).

Sharing my friend’s words in my poem and TEDTalk. (Allison Smith)

One of my best friends shared these powerful words with me a few years ago. Her words are just as profound then as they are now.

Why do we use labels and erase our sentences?

Our first impressions are often incorrect and limiting. We don’t take the time to hear people’s stories. We don’t even take the time to see the various pieces of our identity that make up our beautiful tapestries.

Everyone loses out when we simply see labels and ignore our sentences. We need to remember that we are whole people and each one of us has so much to offer the world.

I recently gave a lecture at the University of Ottawa and shared my work on the politics of slam poetry, as well as the complexities of identity and the potential for change in the slam arena. I also wove in some of my poetry to flesh out some of these ideas, and it’s neat combining my passions with academia.

I would like to thank my friend, Caro Ibrahim, who filmed my poem and lecture. They are a talented, Ottawa-based filmmaker, so check out their work when you have a chance!

What are some labels in your life?

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2 Responses to “You are not a label, you are a sentence (poem)”

  1. Janette April 2, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    Hi there, I wish for to subscribe for this webpage
    to take most recent updates, thus where can i do it please assist.

    • Jenna Tenn-Yuk April 3, 2013 at 9:02 am #

      Hi Janette,

      You can subscribe in the section that says, “Follow blog via email,” under “Latest Tweets” on the right side of the page. You just click on the button. Please let me know if that makes sense and I hope you’re enjoying my posts!

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