Labeling theories- Pushing Past the Stereotypical

This summer I will be interning at Youth Life Southwood, a nonprofit organization that focuses on working with at-risk kids on furthering their education and learning development. Youth life’s mission is to create long-lasting relationships with children from at-risk communities in the Richmond area. The goal is by starting at a young age (K-5) students will have a support system that not only academically challenges them, but builds character, raises expectations, and commits 100% to a child: hoping to create leaders of tomorrow. The vision is simple “is to nurture the child, strengthen the family, and rebuild the community”. 

Another theory that I try to not utilize, but stay conscious of being the Labeling theory. Labeling theory is“a person’s implicit leadership theory is, therefore, the collection of all the traits and characteristics that a person associates with their schema of a leader. Implicit leadership theories include physical traits (e.g., height and gender), personality characteristics (e.g., dominant, aggressive), and behaviors (e.g., motivator, visionary) that an individual considers being characteristic of a leader” (Weidner, Nathan Wayne, 2012). As followers, we all have our ideas of what an effective leader should or shouldn’t be. These ideas or ILT is created through the act of labelling and stereotyping. Stereotyping and labeling are two different concepts, but intertwine as they each affect the way subordinate groups are marginalized and diminished through language (Kraska, 2006). We can define stereotyping as a generalization of a group of people that leads to a falsified overarching claim or opinion. Gordon Allport, a renowned psychologist, stated: “stereotypes emerge because of normal human thinking” (Allport, 1979). This “normal human thinking” becomes unjust when acted upon, and the stereotypical beliefs, especially involving people of a distinct race, gender, and religion, can cause discriminatory behavior. Labeling is a categorization of people, black, white, criminal, etc. This act of humans’ need for classification was studied and coined as the Label Theory.

Labeling theory is dangerous in fact, we are now seeing the full effect of that in our country. Labels are powerful and are not meant to be negatively used on people. Labels affect the way people see themselves and shape their identities. The kids at the Southwood learning center are predominantly Latino and Hispanic and all the kids are bilingual. The children live in households where their parents speak only Spanish and they go to a school that teaches solely in English. The kids are constantly living in a state of duality. At the learning center, Mrs. Jackie and Ms. Brianna, the directors helps to bridge that gap between school and home by using bilingual learning and communication in one central location. It is not my job to pity them, or feel sorry for them but instead to understand the privilege I have and help them grow with the tools they already have. My children are smart, kind and wonderful kids. They are not defined by their situation, but rather define their own situation. They are so much more than the labels that this country has given them not because of me but because of themselves.