I'm sick of people labeling people

We're not "strippers"! We're not "illegals"! We're citizens of the planet!

By Cary Tennis

Published October 8, 2009 7:06AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am not an angry person, but lately I feel infuriated when people are referred to as "illegals," or "strippers," as if that were their whole identity, or what they are, above being just human. Granted, most of these references are made by Web site commenters or the interesting mix of people that local news stations always seem to find willing to give a sound bite on the street. (Although the other day on my local NPR affiliate the host referred to a woman involved in a crime as a "stripper.")

If a real live person in my life does this, I point it out, and it usually ends in an argument, and sometimes I even win and succeed in educating the objectifier. But I wonder how to spread the word that this is cruel -- in a productive way.

I should also point out that it doesn't bother me if someone is referred to as a "doctor," or if a bad guy is called a "criminal."

Thanks for your column.


Dear Melissa,

Well, thanks for pointing that out. Sure. I'm with you.

I do not like the way we divide everyone up into categories.

Besides, every time you go to the doctor, you go into that little room with the really high, narrow bed with paper on it and the first thing he says is take off your clothes.

What kind of man or woman says, "Take off your clothes" the minute you walk in the door? That sort of makes us all strippers! And the doctor is our customer!

He is like a person going to a strip show. But they don't say that on the news, do they? They don't say, Dr. Rimbeau, noted aficionado of the naked body, examiner of private parts ... They just say Dr. Rimbeau and we're supposed to go, Wow, a doctor, do you know how smart they have to be?

Frankly, I would prefer it if everyone were referred to publicly as "citizen." Even people who are not citizens of our particular state are citizens of the planet. They belong just like you and I do. They have mothers.

Or as Nick V. Montalto of NJ.com puts it, "Let's stop making moral distinctions between people."

We are all strippers!

Something else I hate, as far as categories go, is when you meet someone and they ask, "So what do you do?"

What do I do when?

What do I do when the car catches fire? What do I do when I'm alone in the woods? What do I do when I sneeze?

They're not asking what you do. They are asking, "What is your primary economic arrangement?" What is your source of funds, and how much do they give you?

Also they are asking, in general, "Where are you kept during the daytime?" That is not a very interesting thing. It is more interesting where we are kept at night, and what we do then.

I'd rather a question be impertinent and rude than stupid and boring. I'd rather be asked, So, who do you sleep with?

But no, people ask, "So, what do you do?"

Well, I say, first I call 911 and then I try to put out the fire.

Anyway, there's this moral problem of how we value a being. We forget that behind the stripper is a being. Well, actually, the being, technically speaking, is not behind the stripper but inside the stripper. (Does that sound dirty? Come to think of it, it's not accurate either; more accurate to say the being is not in or on or behind the stripper but of the stripper; inseparable from; not perhaps spatially located but nonetheless attached to the stripper.) Also the doctor is a being, and that being has value. Its value isn't about occupation, accomplishments, primary economic arrangements or genetic background. Its value is something else; it is like the value of a star, or a chrysanthemum. It is something of nature, not of man.

So we're coming at this whole value thing backward. We start with the disclaimer that proves its opposite; we say, Hey, whatever your skin color or occupation, just because you're an illegal stripper, I won't hold it against you.

We've already done what we claim we won't do.

So why not start at the other end, assuming, a priori, that your value as a being, as a soul, is deep and constant and unique?

Then, after that's established, after everybody's clear on how each one of us has equal worth as a being, then we'll take a look at your stripper outfit.

Write Your Truth.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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