Irshad Manji, Don’t Label Me

“We rally for diversity of appearance but flake on diversity of viewpoint.”
-Irshad Manji, Don’t Label Me


Don't Label Me book coverPulling from her own experiences as well as that of Bruce Lee, Ben Franklin and Audre Lorde, Irshad Manji dismantles how the labels we use to define others, ultimately define and limit ourselves. Don’t Label Me deconstructs our use of labels, highlighting how they polarize the very people it was meant to build up.

Manji is a (label warning ahead) professor of moral courage, a lesbian Muslim, Islam reformer, wife, daughter, friend and mother to a blind canine elder named Lily. It’s through Lily’s perspective that Irshad invites readers on a journey self-discovery that deconstructs how labels fence us in, furthering the divide between Us and Them, but more importantly, Manji offers practical advice for bridging the divide and enabling personal accountability for the conversations we keep.

As heart-warming as it is heart-breaking, Don’t Label Me invites the reader to experience the world through a conversation with an elder blind dog. With provocative chapters like Straight White Male, We The Plurals, Why And How Not To Be Offended, and Even In Canada, Manji’s book reviles the silver lining behind our collective cultural cloud.

Serious, thought-provoking, challenging, Don’t Label Me is more than an incredible conversation for divided times, it’s a roadmap for navigating the conditions inherent to a heart-centric life. Acknowledging that others have a path as individual and as unique as we are, requires the willingness to practice honest diversity, as Manji notes, “We rally for diversity of appearance but flake on diversity of viewpoint” which can have the effect of an echo chamber, exacerbating the divide between diversity supporters and sceptics. Punctuated by puns that serve to remind the reader that the way forward doesn’t have to be a “zero-sum game, as in for me to win you must lose.” Labels come with generalizations that have the effect of distorting who a person truly is and ignores the layered complexity of the individual.

Like two porcupines trying to kiss, Don’t Label Me is more than an explanation of our growing frustrations, it provides concrete solutions for meaningful connection with the ‘other’, a beacon of hope for these complicated times. Irshad’s clarity of voice is honest, vulnerable and challenges the cultural dogma that plagues our progress as multi-layered individuals. Her arguments aim to expose the labels we employ as the very thing that’s keeping us divided, “When we, diversity supporters, clear space for diversity sceptics, then diversity will be consistent.”

“America’s founding genius is diversity of thought. Which is why social justice activists won’t win by putting labels… on those who disagree with them.”
-Irshad Manji

Don’t Label Me: available here.


By Raymond Helkio

Raymond Helkio is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design, whose work has been shown at international film, theatre, and design festivals including Inside Out Film Festival, Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, Design Exchange, Videofag, Art Gallery of Ontario, Glad Day Bookshop, Artscape and Nuit Rose.