There is a pot of jam that has been in my fridge a very long time. It’s delicious, Bonne Maman. It’s full flavoured, blue black, firm and smooth. Blackcurrant jelly. So why haven’t I eaten it?
The problem is the label. The label says it’s Gelée Framboises.
There is no way this jam is made from raspberries. I know I should be able to ignore the label and simply enjoy the taste but instead I find I’m suspicious. I’m not really sure I can trust it.
I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in clothes shopping occasionally. Sale items that get left on the rack are often those that are wrongly labelled. Something called Large turns out to be small; something labelled a size 8 might fit me, a comfortable 12. We don’t like it. It makes us wary; perhaps there’s something more than a misdescription wrong with it; perhaps the label’s right and it’s us that’s wrong.
When a person is given a label like Asperger’s or ADHD or deaf, it’s tempting to apply the label to the whole person, not just an aspect of their cognitive or physical make up. Labelling someone in race or sexuality terms, similarly, can sometimes ease us into a mistaken sense that the label signifies more than it does.
But labels are important too. If the jam didn’t have a label I wouldn’t know if I wanted to buy it. If someone can’t tell you they have ADHD, they can’t explain why they do things differently, or ask for and expect the right support; if someone can’t label themselves black or gay they can’t shorthand to their experience of discrimination.
Back to that jam. I’m glad it’s called Framboises. It forces me put aside my expectations and enjoy it for what it is. I’m having to think about what raspberries taste like, and whether I like blackcurrants just as much; I’ve had to give it a go and judge for myself. Another croissant anyone?