I’ve lived in the U.S for now close to 6 years. Before this, I was raised in France for more than 20 years. Now, I’m stuck between two worlds.
You’d think these shouldn’t be too different. They are. First yes, you won’t find a good baguette in the U.S. Second, despite some similarities, the language, the food, the way of expressing yourself *screaming over politics at dinner parties*.. and more feel completely opposite to one another.
In the U.S, I’ve always, and still, feel a bit out of place. I liked good cheese and good wine. I was (am) shy. I don’t like hugs.
Now when I come home, I’m also a foreigner. I confuse words (or forget them altogether). I’m vegetarian and I have tattoos *or according to my grand parents, “a mark of the rejection of my own culture”*. In the U.S, I’m French. Here in France, I’m now labelled as the “hippie”.
Aren’t labels such an interesting concept?
In data, we need labels. Labels about where we live, our salary, our weight. But, also, labels on less defined concepts like race, origins, political opinions, religion, diet and level of happiness.
And these labels don’t always seem to make the most sense.
For instance, I’ve observed an interesting behavior from others towards my dear partner. In America, he’s Black. Here in France, he’s American only. Being from another country erases an aspect of his identity that would usually be noticed first.
This recalls the debate happening around the Census answers to the race question or choices made around gender selection in forms. Because reducing an identity to one label fails to acknowledge the complex reality of a person.
So yes, we do need labels in data. But are we really using the right labels? Could we ask better questions? Could we offer more nuanced labels?
Could we simply omit certain labels when not necessary?
I don’t know about you but I’m ready to stop defining people by their labels. By only their gender, race or political affiliation. At least, when it’s not needed for the understanding of our intricate world.
Written with amour from France,
An informed and elegant answer to a “your work is garbage” tweet:
by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.
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