I try my best to not label people or judge others too harshly, but there are moments where I found myself doing that. It was 9PM at Wendy’s on Broad Street, and I was trying to grab dinner after work when I ran into him. He was a large black man walking around with a hefty garbage bag filled with what I assumed to be all his belongings. My label for him was “homeless,” and I felt uncomfortable heading into this restaurant behind him. In an effort of courtesy this man opened the door for me and held it open for me to walk in before him. It was raining and the man was soaked, so this was a meaningful gesture because of the contrast between us. Yet, holding the door for me was not necessary, and his effort to do so made for an awkward moment because of my reaction. I feel really bad for my reaction, which was that mirroring a deer in the headlights. He stood there holding the door for me, and I just stood there looking at him. Sadly, my fear got the best of me and I thought, “I was not going to let this man to my backside.” My behavior offended the guy and we shared this unpleasant moment- where he held the door for me, and I would not go in as long as he stood there holding the door.

The label of “homeless,” which got so stuck in my head, kept me scared and paralyzed as he finally went inside alone and the door shut behind him. He hung his head low and looked down at my feet for a second, before going in and said, “Shit dude, I’m still a person.” I used the restroom before going to the counter to order my food, but after doing my business I left the Wendy’s because I felt so humiliated. My prejudice kept me from even eating in a place where this man was, because of the label I placed on him. Who knows how this man is doing today, but looking back I wish I would have appealed to him as a person. Maybe I could have bought him dinner, or even eat mine with him and learn about his life. Just because someone is considered homeless doesn’t mean they will be homeless for the rest of their life, and I really regret my behavior in that situation.

A time where I have been labeled was when I went to hangout with a group of Anarcho-Communists. They have this library I was interested in checking out, and I went in the hopes of learning about political philosophy and history. To my dismay, few books on the shelves were ones I actually wanted to read, and few people there were willing to talk to me. I felt like they labeled me “privileged,” and that I couldn’t relate to their struggle or philosophy. Needless to say, I left shortly thereafter because of how snubbed I felt treated. I think of myself as a pretty normal guy, but to the counter-culture “normal” will not make you very many friends. If only I was poor, dirty, and wearing punk rock clothing. Then maybe they would have been more willing to talk to me.

Despite feeling so unwelcomed I still want to break through their bias, but I don’t think they will ever let me. It was weird to be looked down on by people everyone else I know would have already looked down upon; labeling them the white-trash of the radical left. By labeling me “privileged,” it was like they rejected all the work I’ve done on my own to get me to where I am today, and all the sacrifices my family has made in raising me. Just because of the way I look does not mean we can’t still have a normal conversation. At the very least we should be able to find common ground somewhere. Leaving, I felt so frustrated and it was like I had intruded on their group. It doesn’t mean much to me now because there was probably nothing I could have done there to change the way they perceived me.

Labels are subtle things that people place onto others within the very moment they see or identify someone. I just wish they weren’t so adhesive and divisive, because there is more to a person than what meets the eye. Don’t think you know someone or have them figured out, because people can often surprise you.

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