TED Conversations

Joshua Lee

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Is the language we use perpetuating the racial divide?

When I started working at the University I was asked, "Who do you relate to?" I answered unawares of their intention, "My wife." To which there was a pause... an irritated pause... ,"No, What race do you identify with?" Response, "The human race."

This only provides a small example into the plethora of ways that language contributes to how we perceive ourselves and others. This example illustrates how language shapes identity or at least perceived identity and its association with our race. It gives clues to how society contributes to a divide that no longer should exist. I believe that we can move beyond defining ourselves through race. We can rebuild ourselves through language and allow growth to truly take place.

Perhaps then a lack of opportunities wouldn't be presented as a racial issue but an economic issue, perhaps stereotypes would disappear and we would be able to characterize each other based on work ethic not racial stigmas, Perhaps we would be able to address the social issues from a less jaded perspective. Maybe now is the time that we stop making up for our ancestors mistakes and start working together as true equals.


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    Jun 28 2013: This problem with self-identity is not only racial. There are discussions on TED whether using he/she in our language contributes to sexism, etc.

    I think, globalization and Internet brought these deep issues of our identity into light. Most of the social turmoil in today's world seems to be related to division into "us" vs. "them" (perhaps, it has always been): Believers vs. atheists, Muslims vs. non-Muslims, Suni vs. Shia, Catholics vs. Protestants, Android users vs. iPhone users, soccer fan violence, poor vs. rich (99% vs. 1% - see "I'm the 99%" bumper stickers).

    Meanwhile blood is red and pain feels the same for everyone.

    I think, your answers exposed the absurdity of these weird questions.
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        Jun 28 2013: Not even religions have much in common, but even atheists often have much in common with theists. I see a lot of the same irrationality, same blind acceptance of dogmatic views, same intolerance towards other ideologies, same self-righteousness, same finger-pointing, etc. I wouldn't THINK they would be more friendly, but I, certainly HOPE so.

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