Collectively, teenagers experience a form of one label or another being attributed to them—whether it is negative or positive—in order to describe who they are as people. Labels have the ability to classify people individually or in groups. The contexts from which these labels derive vary in multiple and complex ways, additionally having the capacity to transgress past the point of teenage years and into adulthood. The microcosms of River High School and the city of Oakland, both located in the state of California, form distinct and reflective insight of the larger society at play in which everyone, not just high schoolers and their staff, actively or passively participates. Focusing on these two locations, the labels appointed to some of the teenagers caused them to experience harsh and malign treatment due to the derogatory context associated with such particular labels.  A derogatory label is a social stereotype that distorts the ways in which a person is perceived and treated by others. Even if the labeled person does not fully internalize the label, he or she is forced by social circumstances to incorporate some aspects of the label into their self-concept.
In River High School, the routinely enacted social processes and rituals implemented by students and faculty, male or female, are constantly reinforced within this setting, resulting in the labeling of one another based on their gender performativity. Students learn here, if they have not already, that masculine and feminine identities are opposite and unequal identities. Through the act of perpetuating unrealistic gender roles and gender ideals, the school system successfully maintains an order to the labeling process, designating what is acceptable and what is not. Males who do not embrace their masculinity and identify with some sort of feminine characteristic are designated weak, lower than the rest, and someone to whom another could exert dominance over. This labeling delegates the social hierarchy of the students, sending those who stray away from the heteronormative path towards the bottom of the totem pole. These individuals are unfortunately incapable of escaping the label altogether, and though they may not fully accept their given label, the stigma that follows is unyielding as some aspect of the label persists. This process can have lingering adverse effects on individuals who are navigating through the difficult years of being a teenager. Ricky, a former student at River High, is a perfect example of this process. He is someone who challenges the social norms of his peers. Unable to successfully focus on his education due to the unceasing harassment he experienced on a regular basis, Ricky was left with no choice but to leave school. Based on his gendered practices and sexuality that set him apart, students who followed the heteronormative path made Ricky’s school life unbearable. Incapable of identifying with River High’s concept of masculinity, Ricky was inevitably labeled as a ‘fag’ and ultimately deemed an outsider.
The second setting, Oakland, California, depicts the other side of the same coin. Here, labeling teenagers is also a common practice, but it uniquely occurs in a way that often criminalizes the individual—constructing them as inherently deviant. The research centered on the Latino and Black male teenagers within the study reveal how agencies of social control exploit them by executing the youth control complex as a means to stigmatize and punish them to a point that is often insurmountable to overcome. The labels attached to these young males have a direct impact on the person’s social mobility, detrimental in its effects. The interactions these boys routinely have with agents of social control, such as police, probation officers, teachers, administrators, and even members of their own family, hold significant weight in determining how and when they become labeled. Due to a perception of criminality already predisposed onto the youth of this community even before one of them actually commits a crime, these teenagers are placed at risk to being stuck with even more disadvantageous labels. Having a label forced upon an individual, assumed to mirror who that individual is, that has deep negative connotations can often lead someone down the path of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Essentially, because they are expected without hesitation to behave wrongly, and to be fair, some do in the course of time live up to this expectation, these teenagers are up against a system that from the start sets them up to amount to nothing. Whichever form of control it may be that is exerted upon these individuals that presumes their criminality, renders them a dismal outlook on what is to come, one with minimal hope of beating the odds and beating the system that relentlessly impedes their potential.

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