Blog 040 Social Stigma 

By Mana Williams Eade   20-25 Minutes

Today’s lengthy chat is about social politics but looks at identifying the key relationship differences between making a judgment call by stigmatizing versus giving a person special treatment. With a few examples and with relevance in the hopes of evaluating a little bit more about the massive dust cloud that is way too often used as an excuse for something to be right or okay when in reality both need to be understood and separated.

What does it mean?
Stigmatize – describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval.

Special Treatment – distinguished, set apart from, or excelling others of its kind.
Judgment – the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.

Let’s talk about making a judgment call on a person.

Instead of writing up a whole blog about judging somebody I thought I’d make an entire paragraph dedicated to explaining my interpretation of making a judgment call on someone, so apologies for not having content out yesterday. When it comes to judging a person, there is a difference between stigmatizing and giving someone the benefit of the doubt by allowing them special privileges when appropriate. The act of making a judgment call, in my opinion, is just a way of protecting yourself from getting hurt in social situations. Recognizing a person’s caliber will let you know how many barriers you need to put up in order to stay level headed.

Time for an analogy.

Like a fortified castle, judging someone is the curation of the outer walls. Walls put up to protect yourself from other people’s shit, or vice versa. But it doesn’t change the reality that you shut people out whenever you erect walls. So why are we afraid of people’s shit? Is it memory conditioning? Is it a reaction from traumatizing childhood memories? Is it reactionary as an outlet for us or do we have to make assumptions to make ourselves feel better? For whatever reason, there are a few categories of judgment that can come out for ‘whatever reason.’ But for the relevance of the chat, I’ll focus on what I feel are the most important contrasting reactionaries which are stigmatizing and giving special treatment.

When is it ever okay to stigmatize?

Stigma is never nice, it’s easy to build your life around, it’s almost an excuse to be racially biased. This chat takes a really quick look at stigma and a couple examples of when it can really affect someone. To put it short and sweet, it’s never okay to stigmatize. The definition of stigmatizing is to recognize a negative change or characteristic of a person or to enlighten that they are different in a bad way. It’s when you use their indifferences against them to call them out on something or convince someone else that this somebody is bad without reason.


I was sitting in the university library last week when I struck up a conversation with a dude who lived outside of the city. It started off really nicely and we talked about what most students talked about, what degree they were taking, what year they were in and if they lived in a hall, whereabouts their parents live etc. The whole time was pretty casual in general. Until we started talking about socio-economics. We started discussing why certain areas of Wellington were really nasty in comparison to others. After discussing why certain areas within the city might not be very nice, he alluded to one area being very impoverished by the presence of the mongrel mob and the problems that they cause. But it hit me when he was talking about it, he made the assumption that just because an area has a low socio-economic rating it’s only due to the presence of gangs and drugs. In reality, any area everywhere is affected by drugs. It made me think about why he would comment on the presence of a gang. To assume that each individual within a gang is to blame for every ounce of heroin or cocaine in a particular suburb. To assume that the intimidation is real and that each gang member has no personality or no story to be told about why they are so inclined to create ripples in society in the first place. Who’s right is it to stigmatize against a group of people simply because they choose to live in a particular way that opposes the belief systems of others? Where in our constitution does it state that we have the right to stigmatize against a collection of people simply because their beliefs are indifferent to ours? Mate… To put simply, nobody has that authority. Sure we have the right to build our own opinions, but we have no claims to convince those opinions as fact or any authority to impose them onto somebody else.

Time to pull it apart.

Everyone has their own shit to deal with, whether that’s a mongrel mob member or my new library friend. It doesn’t give us the right to stigmatize them. Sure, don’t go out and wave your bum at them because that’s never respectful. We have no authority to say that an area is impoverished due to a particular group of people being present. What worries me most about my friend’s opinion of a certain area being really dodgy is probably because he told me that he gained his knowledge from the word of mouth from somebody else, who probably learned that from another person who may have had some sort of running in with a gang member at one stage in their life. But who knows? That gang member might have just lost their mum or dad to a car crash. They may have been going through some really tough times. Only after calling him out about it was it actually apparent to me that he was stigmatizing.

So how does giving special privileges differ from stigmatizing?

When something has happened to somebody and we are informed about it like if a lady is widowed by her husband’s passing, it’s usually normal for people to change their tone of voice or their way of communicating to this person. Conditioning our way of treating that person because they are grieving, because they deserve to be treated with more respect. I was recently at a funeral of a person who meant something to me, spending time at her funeral service and then spending time with her husband. It was obvious that he was grieving, so I and everyone else went out of their way to treat him with extra respect because he had just lost his loved one. Equally, if we learn about somebodies birthday we all of a sudden treat them nicer than usual regardless of what role they are in, whether they’re our waitress or if they are our parent. Giving special privileges, regardless if they are wanted, actually are appropriate in certain situations. They aren’t used against a person they are used for the person’s benefit. To lend a hand and bring them up to speed. it’s our most human contribution. To bring down a drawbridge to invite a person in and go out of our way to be there for them. Giving somebody special treatment is the opposite of stigmatizing. It is giving somebody the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s really sad that we are conditioned to only lend a hand when we are made aware of a problem. That we are only comfortable letting down our walls during a special occasion.

It’s almost like we are sitting behind the reigns of a high horse, only willing to come down when society expects us to. We should be able to do this any moment of the day. To show love and affection to our friends without needing a prompt, without somebody dying. That we don’t have to make assumptions around a certain gang of people, that we don’t have to stigmatize. Our families are closer than ever when we provide them with positive reinforcement, not stigmatic judgment. So how’s about we spend a bit more time treating everyone a bit more special?

And I guess that’s my talk for today! It was something pretty heavy on my shoulders so apologies for taking an extra day to deliver this one out there. Tonight’s talk is going to be pretty exciting! I’m interviewing a really impressive advocate and talking about the new child based New Zealand Ministry, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai. So stay tuned for that!

Thanks for checking in…

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