The process of labeling is at the heart of our communication, because labeling, or naming, is about differentiating one group from the rest (male and female, up and down, right and left, arms and legs, etc). The names help us to share the context of what we want to convey, and makes our communication efficient. In fact, the power of label is so strong that it could have a strong impact on how we perceive the world.
In terms of society, we have a horrific history of creating social hierarchy based on racial labels. Japan is no exception, where the society is segmented and ranked, and social labels categorize us by means of appearance, by profession, hobbies and so on. Also, social groups are often given labels in order to separate the majority and the minority. For example, being called a Japanese-Peruvian is not saying that you are Japanese AND Peruvian, but rather categorizing you into something other than Japanese or Peruvian. I believe that today, such labels are used for discriminatory purposes in a very dangerous way.
Many experts such as Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow”, suggests that poverty and incarceration are integrated into certain community in the United States and Britain through forming a social structure where target community is easily oppressed under the name of “law and order”, and blinding the rest of the society through deliberate negative connotation to target cultures. Both in Britain and United States have stereotypes that connect violence, crime and drugs to Black, Latino, Arab and young communities (Alexander, 96). It is not only the ethnic profiling by the police that is spreading the negative image to certain people. It is the underlying recognition penetrating through the society that makes society blind and slow to react to the condition that these communities face.
I believe a similar pattern can be seen in Japan as well, where we discriminate against certain social groups only based on the group they belong to. For example, Chinese are seen as extremely wealthy or extremely poor, Zainichi Koreans has a long history of being blamed for all types of crimes, and these images are subconsciously reminded through news media and rumors. Of course, many of us know that such prejudice is false but I believe that the collective stereotypes are rooted deep inside our society, and it will not go away overnight. At the same time, I am not a believer of under-labeling. Calling all Zainichi and Peruvian-Japanese as just “Japanese”, and treat them as if they are no different, is disrespecting their background and oppressing their identities. We must continuously recognize the strength of labels, and try to assess the positive/negative connotation that is attached to it. This may not be the best solution, but I believe the society could only change when each member is consistently trying to change. Perhaps we will someday be able to accept differences in social groups as a fact, rather than treating them as “exceptions” of our society.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow. New York: The New Press. 2010. Print.