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Label less and love more

Stereotypes: those pesky labels we place on people before we truly know them. Every day, we are constantly stereotyping people and placing them into defined groups based on simple presumptions and characteristics. Even when we don’t intend to, our mind still stereotypes every person we encounter. 
Often, we are the victims of stereotyping as well. Others label us and form opinions about us before they have gotten to know us. Personally, one label I find that is most incorrectly used in Mississippi is: Democrat. I am a liberal Democrat, and I am very proud of my beliefs; however I do not appreciate people forming negative opinions of me solely based on my political beliefs. Furthermore, I don’t appreciate people assuming they know all of my beliefs, simply because I identify with the Democratic party. 
In Mississippi, the Democratic label has an especially negative connotation. Most conservative Mississippians seem to believe that if you are a Democrat then you are either old and crazy or young and naïve. I realize that I am also making general assumptions about the beliefs of conservatives in this state. I don’t intend to group these opinions under one label, I only wish to convey my experiences. I am a Democrat, and I am proud. If you are a Republican, you should be just as proud of your beliefs. We need to work across the aisle and break down these unnecessary labels.
Another label that we are all too familiar with is the stereotype that every Mississippian faces when leaving our beloved South. “Yankees” see us as unintelligent, redneck and obese. I was born and raised in Mississippi, and (hopefully) I don’t fit any of those labels. I visited D.C., Chicago, and other cities above the Mason-Dixon line, and people immediately judged me because of my deep southern drawl. While I do get upset that people consider me unintelligent because of my accent, at other times, this presumption can be used as a strength. My intelligence is underestimated because of my strong Southern accent, so I can surprise people with my intellect. 
While there are negative Southern stereotypes, there are also some positive ones. For example, Southerners are seen as extremely charming and hospitable, and we are often considered amazing cooks. Now, I think all of these things are wonderful, and I certainly want people thinking this about me. Some of you may say that this isn’t a stereotype; it’s an absolute truth. I, however, have definitely met Southerners who were not charming, and there are plenty of Southerners who can barely boil water. 
Stereotypes are both positive and negative; however the majority of stereotypes hold negative connotations. Our stereotypes can keep us from truly caring about someone or giving them the respect they deserve. Our society has been labeling people and objects for so long that it now seems like a natural process. I wish I could tell myself to stop stereotyping, but it’s not that easy. It takes discipline and determination. Imagine a society where we didn’t generalize or label people. Maybe, we would have more friends than enemies; maybe we could have fewer complications and things would be simpler in life. Here, I challenge myself to label less, love more, and get to know people before making presumptions about them.
Adam Blackwell is a junior public policy leadership major from Natchez. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBlackwell1.