'Labels' are not the problem with Priyanka Chopra's controversial refugee shirt.

This is actress Priyanka Chopra.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for NBC.

If you live in the U.S., you might recognize her from the TV series "Quantico." If you live in India, you might recognize her from just about everything.


The Bollywood super star is on the October-November 2016 cover of the Indian edition of Condé Nast Traveller magazine. But it didn't go over all that well.

Can you spot why?

Yep, people took issue with Chopra's tank top. It turns out looping "refugees" in with "outsiders" and "travelers" isn't the best way to broach the topic of the very real hardships refugees and immigrants face.

Backlash was swift, with many folks pointing out that having Priyanka Chopra, a wealthy A-list celebrity, striking a pose wearing the shirt on the cover of Condé Nast Traveller — a publication that caters to those fortunate enough to enjoy the luxuries of global tourism —  trivializes the plight of world refugees.

In other words, as Huffington Post blogger Arpita Das noted, the cover reflects "a privileged view of a global issue."

"The lack of choice in removing one's home and hearth from the familiar to the alien is one fraught with heartbreak and the feeling of being cornered," she wrote. "[It's] very different from picking out the next attractive destination on your bucket list and surfing through AirBnb for that perfect place to park oneself."

Das wasn't the only one who pointed out the problematic shirt. Plenty of people on Twitter noted how insensitive the cover came across on an issue we so desperately need to get right.

To some, it was a shallow way to get publicity.

For others, it was the lives of the rich and famous at their worst.

And really, shouldn't we keep in mind what simple wish refugees want most of all?

Both the magazine and Chopra released statements in the aftermath of the fallout apologizing for the mishap.

“[Condé Nast] specially got [the shirt] made and implored me to wear it," the actress told NDTV. "They said they were addressing xenophobia, which is a big issue that is happening."

She further explained (emphasis added):

“I am really, really apologetic about the fact that so many sentiments were hurt. I mean, that was definitely not the reason. Me, of all people, I'm someone who always stands for no labels. ... The point the magazine wanted to make was actually something good.”

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

In a post online, Condé Nast explained the decision to have Chopra wear the shirt (emphasis added):

"We believe that the opening up of borders and the breaking down of walls can help us discover the world, and open up our minds and hearts. So, when we had actor Priyanka Chopra wear a T-shirt we created on the cover of the 6th anniversary issue, we had a point to make. It’s about how our labelling of people as immigrants, refugees, and outsiders is creating a culture of xenophobia. ... It’s about how we are allowing some powerful leaders to build barriers that make it more difficult for bright, motivated, and hardworking people to see more of the world, learn from it, and make it better for us all."

Chopra and Condé Nast had good intentions. But they really did miss the mark — even in their apologies.

Both the magazine and Chopra expressed the idea that labels are the real problem. And, on paper, that notion seems to hit the nail on the head.

Who needs labels anyways? Don't they just pit us against one another?

In a perfect world, maybe labels would be a hinderance. But in the real one, labels are oftentimes necessary and important.

Syrian refugees staying on the island of Chicos. Due to conflict in their home country, the world is dealing with the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images.

For example, many people use terms like "refugee" and "immigrant" interchangeably.

Refugees are uprooted from their homes due to factors like war and natural disaster. Immigrants, on the other hand, have moved from one place to another voluntarily — maybe to better their own circumstances, yes, but they haven't been forcibly displaced in the same way refugees have.

Labels help us understand these differences so that we can address the important issues facing each group of people. It's not the labels that are the problem, it's what we do with them.

The shirt Chopra wore doesn't help us differentiate between a refugee and an immigrant (not to mention a tourist). Blurring the lines between groups like these — and overgeneralizing them — can reinforce dangerous misperceptions: that refugees are the ones responsible for recent terror attacks in the U.S., for instance, or that all immigrants from Mexico are undocumented immigrants.

Syrian refugees, who now live in Turkey and work in auto repairs. Photo by  Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images.

It matters that high profile publications and spokespeople get this right because, right now, the world is grappling with a massive influx of refugees.

The civil war in Syria has caused "the worst humanitarian crisis of our time," according to Mercy Corps, with millions of families forced to leave their communities. Kids are kept from going to school. Mothers and fathers struggle to feed their children. And often, families are left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

If a magazine wants to find a way to address the refugee crisis, that's wonderful. But doing so takes care, context, and perspective — the type of nuance you can't convey on a cover model's tank top.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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