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Beyond the Damage

aphorisnt's picture

How do we in society move beyond labels? Student, victim, survivor, criminal–all designations carry a certain connotation invoke a certain image of the person described, but those assumptions seldom contain the truth. What is more, so many of thease labels come from a place of damage. Both in and out of prison the assigned identities of "prisoner" or "convict" or "ex-con" or "inmate" carry a lot of weight as far as first impressions and asumptions of who a person is, and Pinkert found that same mentality to be true of Holocaust survivors. That very term "survivor" even starts at a place of damage, emphasizing that a person has "survived" and come through some sort of orderal. "The labels 'survivor' and 'victim' help to regulate predjudice, policy, and inhumanity to the past, suggesting that the present (and those in it) are different" (Pinkert), but simply coming up with a label and placing someone in a box does not soften much less eliminate the lived experiences of that person. However, the very assignment of that label reduces a person to just one facet of their identity, one small piece of the larger whole.

In reading Pinkert I can't help but draw parallels to Eve Tuck and the idea of damage- versus desire-based thinking: starting from a place of what is wrong or missing or problematic versus beginning from what strengths and good are already present. People in carceral settings so often areassociated with damage as emphasis is placed on punishment and claiming to right a wrong, and I feel like a lot of that damage is carried in the very term prisoner. The term immediately invokes the image of somone behind bars, no freedom, little to no autonomy, and someone who has been placed in this setting after having done something very wrong, but this reductionay thinking barely scratches the surface of the whole picture.

I do like that the men in the program decided on a new sort of term, that of students. Here, they are not victims, not wrong-doers, not prisoners, they are rather some of the many people working to learn about the world around them. "Student" comes from a place of desire, a wanting to know and understand more about the world and about society and rather than reductionary in my mind works to encompass a host of different identities by describing what someone is doing rather than what someone has done. Grounding the indentity in the resent makes space for continued growth and change and shows that it is not so much important what a person did as it is what that person is doing now and hoping to do in the future.