web analytics

‘Color’Labeling ‘White’ Branding

A group of sharecroppers pile into the back of a flat bed pick-up truck at the end of a fourteen hour work day that began just before dawn. Settling in for a short ride back to their shot-gun shacks a couple miles down the road, their tired silence breaks at the sound of a drawling […]

A group of sharecroppers pile into the back of a flat bed pick-up truck at the end of a fourteen hour work day that began just before dawn. Settling in for a short ride back to their shot-gun shacks a couple miles down the road, their tired silence breaks at the sound of a drawling accent telling them that they have to make a stop before going home. The plantation owner takes them to a watermelon patch and instructs them to load as many ripe melons on the truck as possible. He intends to take them to the farmers market first thing in the morning.

Two hours later, climbing over watermelons loading themselves on the back of the truck to end an extended work day, the sharecroppers settle in a second time for the ride home. Weighed down by watermelons and tired Negroes, the truck heads down a two lane road boarded on both sides by cotton fields as far as the eye can see. At irregular intervals a watermelon rolls off the stack and off the truck bursting on impact as it hits the black tar pavement.

Driving behind the pick-up truck in a 1954 open top Hudson a local white family makes their way home from dinner with friends. Their youngest son peering over the back of the front seat at the curious scene unfolding before him begins to count the watermelons as they fall off the truck. After the fourth fleshy red innards of a freshly picked ripe melon seasons the road with it sweetness, the boy asks ,”why don’t them there niggars do something to stop the melons from falling off that truck?”

The father responds, “It is because Niggers are lazy.”

This story illustrates the difference between ‘labels’ and ‘branding’. Negro, Nigger and ‘niggar’ are labels. The social relations of production that provide the back story for what the little boy noticed branded colored lives with a designation ‘lazy’ that had nothing to do with their work day, habit or ethic but every thing to do with configuring social relations of power to subordinate blacks to labor demands and to the maintenance of social perceptions of the validity of the inferiority of the black race.

Fast forward to 2010, people who think of difference as a simplistic linguistic uttering of a ‘label’ ignore not only the difference that colors lives but the historical sedimentation behind the labels. Their stance is more malicious than it is arbitrary because it is their hope and intent to enforce sameness by making difference unspeakable. How do they make difference unspeakable? They do so by emptying ‘labels’ of their social and historical content as a first step to making normative notions of sameness the measure of equality, justice and freedom.

Difference for them is academic. Conflicts of difference from their sheltered sanctuaries of sameness seem to be perpetuated by labels and labeling. They want and pretend to be able to change lives colored by difference as they would an order at Starbucks, asking for a white mocha frappuccino instead of a caramel macchiato. Witty sarcasm at Starbuck’s expense? No. It would be except the sentiments expressed understate the lack of seriousness and respect that makes it possible to reduce difference to a label that is held responsible for both the cause and the effect of racism, prejudice, hate and discrimination.

In soft pretentious tones they present their frustrations with discrimination, hate and prejudice as innocent wondering why colored people just don’t get over it. In other words, they are like the little boy in the story above asking his father, ‘why the niggars did not stop the melons from falling off the truck?’ Their campaign against racism and discrimination amount to hallowed hollow slogans like ‘Stop naming, Stop hate’, ‘Stop labeling, Start Loving’.

The it they want colored people to ‘just get over’ usually means the past that has unfolded into a present where stopping naming and ‘not labeling’ will not abate injustice, adjust income disparities, halt gay bashing and end violence against women.  The speech therapy that they suggest as a remedy for discrimination, hate and prejudice will no more resolve conflicts of difference than it could eRace the long work day that made the black sharecroppers indifferent to a plantation owner’s melons falling off a truck and bursting on the pavement.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The historical sedimentation behind labels and labeling are not linguist exercises of the rich and powerful but social relations of production that empower the rich and disempower the majority of society, the so-called working poor, that produces the wealth. ‘Labels’ like shoes and shirts are produced socially. In short, ‘labels’ are social products whose exchange in conflicts of difference are regulated by equity and inequities; power and powerlessness; domination and subordination.

Michelle Obama Tired Of ‘Angry Black Woman’ Stereotype

Anyone that tells you that white, black, gay, straight, colored are “just labels”, not only lack a sense of history, they experience difference without consequence. These are people whose knowledge and understanding of difference has been in one form or another mollified by income, education, social status and other forms of privilege.  Their life experience is distant from realities beyond their line-of-sight. Their experience of difference is lived in the line-of-sight of colorblind realities. They read, write, research and watch difference.  They experience difference vicariously if some form of it could not be completely negated by their income, education or social status.

“An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.” (James Baldwin (1924-1987)

When a person whose life has been colored by difference reduce their experience of difference to a label that they can shed at will for some measure of sameness, difference becomes a badge of authority that allows them to front for colored realities not their own. They swim with and like sharks but they are just fish sharing the same pond. Taking them seriously would be the equivalent of accepting at face value that ‘hunger’ is just a label that if abandoned or changed ends starvation in inner cities, rural areas and famine stricken countries. Of course, only a person with an empty mind and a full stomach would make such a foolish claim.

Usually adults, these people like the boy in the story above allow ignorance to narrate the lives of colored people instead of the actual life experienced by a person of color. Except, here narrating the lives of colored people is taken to the extreme of postulating the possibility that it is feasible to cherry pick the signifier that designates positive and negative connotations of difference. And, this is done with “white supremacist” vanity culled from their self satisfying assurance that the life and lives of colored people is what and how ‘white’ people choose to name it, call it and label it. In other words, it is a politically correct imposition of comfortable notions of ‘sameness’ that subtly seek to discredit various claims that colored people make and associate with the ways in which they are and experience difference.

Racial priming, extreme criticisms of Barack Obama, and attitudes toward the 2008 US presidential candidates

Tom Pyszczynski, Carl Henthorn, Matt Motyl and Kristel Gerowa


This study investigated the impact of subtle racial priming on the persuasive impact of criticisms of Barack Obama in the month prior to the 2008 presidential election. To prime Black or White race, participants wrote a paragraph about a student with a typical Black or White name. They then read editorials that accused Obama of being unpatriotic or being the Anti-Christ, or that listed his positions on major issues. Participants responded to both criticisms with diminished preferences for and more negative beliefs about Obama, but only when African–American race was primed. Interestingly, the Anti-Christ criticism increased preferences and positive beliefs about Obama in the absence of racial priming, suggesting this criticism may have lacked credibility under neutral conditions.

Why American believe Obama is Muslim

Spee Kosloff, Assistant Professor of Psychology


There’s something beyond plain old ignorance that motivates Americans to believe President Obama is a Muslim, according to a first-of-its-kind study, led by a Michigan State University psychologist, on smear campaigns.

The research by Spee Kosloff and colleagues suggests people are most likely to accept such falsehoods, both consciously and unconsciously, when subtle clues remind them of ways in which Obama is different from them, whether because of race, social class or other ideological differences.


Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.


Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.


Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).