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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    Jul 2 2013: Every thing in this world including language is neutral,

    We are the ones who attach meanings to these things which are essentially neutral.

    To a sage or an animal there is no signicant difference between gold and stone.
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      Jul 2 2013: I agree Adesh, How do you suppose we get to a point where the meanings attached are void of dividing nuances?
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        Jul 2 2013: Joshua you harbour utopian dreams.

        Your dreams may never be realised but you will definitly evolve as a human being. Keep dreaming, keep growing.
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          Jul 2 2013: Perhaps, I do have utopian dreams and I can hope for all mankind that they are realized. I appreciate your comments.

          I would argue though that this particular subject is not one that would fulfill the stipulations around a utopian society but instead would harbor progress to solving the bigger questions with more focus and less distraction.

          In addition, I feel this is a discussion that if started now on a global scale we may have the opportunity to bring about change and accomplish societies that are free from division.
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          Jul 2 2013: Everything starts with a my humble perception:>)
  • Jun 27 2013: As long as the language you're talking about doesn't define in the partial ways, yeah.

    Needless to say, language helps form ideas called ‘thoughts’ and communicate with others logically, effectively and profoundly—depending on how you use it.

    Language affects us a lot more than we think.

    If we can use it in proper (or more innovational(?)) ways to get rid of the barrier called 'racial divide—to quote', it would be not only an awesome tool, but also a huge change throughout the world.

    It all depends on ‘how’ you use your language with less partial definite expressions.
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      Jun 28 2013: Can you be more specific? I like this train of thought and would like to explore the implications of what you are saying.
      • Jun 28 2013: I thought being specific would rather make it sound just….

        for instance, with a little discretion and sensitivity, anyone can at least avoid being called a racist.
        Like I said before, "Language affects us a lot more than we think."
        Even if you don’t really mean to make prejudiced or partial expressions with what you think about something, others could take it really seriously or in a different way.
        (Btw, considering…this, comedians are so clever..)

        Simply considering consequences wouldn’t hurt.
        (I’m not sure this example gives you any clarity of what I wrote above.
        It might just sound like some sort of an easy(well, not easy)-way-out. )

        But see above ‘pat gilbert’s comment.
        “Give the racism thing a rest.”

        Doesn’t he sound like he’s fed up with even a word of ‘race’?
        I totally understand what he meant by that.

        But it also reminds me of the fact that quite many people are get tired of hearing debates on sensitive issues like ‘racism’ while not even making an effort to avoid making that kind of issues, you know what I mean?

        The language we use can perpetuate the ‘racial divide’ unless we unconsciously make that sensitive, yet invisible barrier solid.
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          Jun 28 2013: What does this mean: "But it also reminds me of the fact that quite many people are get tired of hearing debates on sensitive issues like ‘racism’ while not even making an effort to avoid making that kind of issues?"
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          Jun 28 2013: Re: "Doesn’t he sound like he’s fed up with even a word of ‘race’?
          I totally understand what he meant by that."

          I agree. We know we don't have a problem when we don't even know that this is a problem. So, as long as we keep saying 'race', 'race', we know we have an issue. So, we shouldn't have these discussions UNLESS we do have an issue.
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        Jun 29 2013: Barry, Sean, Elizabeth, Joshua, Fritzie, and Arkady,
        I like this train of thought too! I believe there still is a racial issue for many people, and I also believe that more and more people all the time are making an attempt to understand and accept people of different cultures. I agree with Elizabeth... "Language affects us a lot more than we think.". If we become more aware of language and how we are using it, perhaps it would not cause as much of a racial divide?
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        Jun 29 2013: Good point. I very rarely see a need to describe a person based on race. Most of the time, we can use their name, or if we don't have a name, calling each other a "person" works, because that is what we all are, first and foremost:>)
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    Jul 1 2013: In a perfect world, where humans are devoid of ego, we would not use labels to identify ourselves or others.

    The challenge, perhaps like TED does, is introducing ourselves with what we are passionate about.

    How would you change how "we" define ourselves?
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      Jul 2 2013: Who says we need to define ourselves. The very practice of defining who we are is limiting to say the least. We all have unlimited potential to be whatever it is our heart desires. I would suggest instead of defining ourselves we should learn to coexist without the limits of titles. I am not suggesting that this would work in all atmospheres I am aware that structure is necessary in certain aspects like work but in our personal lives why should we use language that limits who we are, what we are interested in, who we are interested in, and place a title on ourselves.
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      Jul 2 2013: I like this conversation Sharon and Joshua, because I do not like labels. That is why I didn't put very much information in my profile. The things I have done in my life come out in conversations where it might be relevant to the topic. The roles I have played in the life adventure, do not define who and what I am, although they certainly contribute to the end product, which is a work in progress all the time:>)

      I agree Sharon that in a perfect world, we may not use labels. I also agree with you Joshua that the practice of defining who we are is limiting to a certain degree, because we all have unlimited potential, in my perception.

      The "racial divide" happens when we define others based on race? So, it is our underlying perception or prejudice that causes the divide rather than the words we use? Or perhaps we sometimes use words which reinforce an established prejudice?
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        Jul 2 2013: Kudos Sharon on your perspective and ultimately this is what I hope would be the rule instead of the exception. Context is the key I am starting to think. The fact that you didn't provide a great deal in your profile not only says that you wish to share what is relevant contextually but it also provides mystery. I sometimes wonder if in the digital age we have become to exposed.

        I would argue that we are still taught and develop our underlying perceptions and prejudices so in essence we continue to cause the divide even inadvertently.

        I do feel that we are on the precipice of change and the chasm between people is shrinking. Edulover had a great point earlier that may be the catalyst for exponentially decreasing the timeframe to complete and positive acceptance. Full integration may be the best way to begin eliminating the divide and stereotypes.Just a thought.
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    Jul 1 2013: My opinion only: It is not just the words we CHOOSE to use, but also the ears we were TAUGHT to listen with.

    Social engineering has been tried many times and largely only makes superficial headway.

    'Because the family itself is fundamentally changing with muti-cultural and multi-racial combinations at the nuclear and extended family level, I believe we are on the cusp of real change and seeking others with similar interests or commonalities, rather than what we have been TAUGHT to hear or say.

    Good discussion, thanks for starting it.
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      Jul 1 2013: Sharon,

      On point, thank you for the well thought out opinion. I have a tendency to agree with you however, rather than approaching it as social engineering do you think it would be possible to reshape or social views through a renewed approach to the words we use to describe ourselves and others. Instead of communicating that I am a Caucasian, heterosexual, catholic male, why not I'M ME.
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      Jul 1 2013: Sharon and Joshua,
      I totally is not just the words we choose, but the ears we were TAUGHT to listen with....well said Sharon! I also believe we are on the cusp of real change, and it appears that our advanced communication systems, which facilitate connection around the world, are supporting that process!
    • Jul 2 2013: go listen to South Pacific, there is a song you've got to be taught. Rodgers and Hammerstein had to fight to keep the song in the play and eventually in the movie
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        Jul 2 2013: Good point Wayne....You've got to be carefully taught......I agree! This song in the show was sung to children, and I believe that children generally accept others without prejudice. A racial divide is taught, so it is the underlying intent with the use of the language, and not the language itself?
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          Jul 2 2013: Many people react strongly against the prejudices of their parents. This starts, typically, in adolescence, when kids are most focused on finding a unique identity.

          But this is also an age when 'them" and "us" thinking can set in as part of establishing an identity. It won't necessarily be the same sort of division parents make- most probably not, I should think.
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        Jul 2 2013: A wonderful song! It seems that it is a vicious cycle. Children accept without prejudice, they are taught prejudice by there parents/society ect. How do we break the cycle? How do we on a grand scale carefully teach our children to continue to accept without prejudice without interference from the tainted adults?

        Or, how do we instead change adult perceptions and erase prejudices so that they are not taught to our children? I suppose that is the better question.
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          Jul 2 2013: I believe we put a dent in the cycle by offering different ideas, and asking questions, like we are doing here and now:>)

          People can question their thoughts, feelings, ideas and beliefs by being aware and mindful. My father was very prejudice, angry and abusive, so as children (8 in our family) we were always hearing derogatory statements about anyone who was not a member of the same ethnic group as my father.

          Our mother was unconditionally loving and accepting with everyone. As a child, I started asking the questions.....why does he feel that way about people he doesn't even know? It didn't make sense to me. My mothers perception, attitude and behavior made much more sense, so I embraced it.

          I have heard people say...I don't like a certain ethnic group and I don't know why. I did your parents feel about that group? Well, they didn't like them either!

          Do we automatically accept what our parents or society gives us for information? Or are we asking the question.....why do I feel like I do? I suggest a lot of people are not asking the questions.

          When I hear jokes that are demeaning to a particular ethnic group, I often you know anyone from that group of people? How do you think that feels? The joker often says it's ONLY a joke! Well, yes, AND it's a joke or saying that reinforces prejudice. Why do we want to continue doing that? It is another language/word usage that is not beneficial.

          I don't think children are naturally prejudice, and perhaps we can learn a lot from them.
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    Jun 28 2013: Language is, in my opinion, only a tool -a good one, of course, but only a tool-; which couts are minds, attitudes, characters of persons, good or bad feelings. Language is only the vehicle for transmitting good or bad ideas, love or hate; even obviously, it helps for bad or for good.
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      Jun 29 2013: I wholeheartedly agree Sean.......language is a tool which we can choose to use in many different ways.
  • Jun 28 2013: Joshua,

    After reading all of the comments so far, I think you are overemphasizing race.

    The problem is not essentially race; the problem is the negative attitude about race AND the many other ways we distinguish us from them.

    Racial stereotypes exist, and they should be eliminated. So do cultural stereotypes and national stereotypes. If you go to Cincinnati, you will find that many people in that city have a stereotype for people from Cleveland.

    Race is going to be with us for a long time, perhaps forever. We should work to eliminate bad attitudes and bad stereotypes of all sorts.
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    Jul 1 2013: Okay, So there has been a stream of comments between both LaMar and Pat that have redirected this conversation away from the direction I was hoping to explore.

    Is the language we use the cause of or continuance of a racial divide in this country. Can we ever get to a point just as Arkady suggested in one of his posts that we begin to teach our children to coexist without the inclusion of material that inherently divides us all?

    If language is a tool as it has been suggested, then does that tool have the potential to contribute directly to expanding the divide of all people even without the direct intention to.

    It is a shame but I have learned that the reason I was asked that question during the first week of employment is that the government provides extra funding to the institution based on the number of people that identify with a minority group. Furthermore, I was forced to identify which I find unconscionable I do not identify with caucasians, black, latinos, asians or any other race specifically. I identify with all people on different levels and therefore feel that asking me to pigeon hole myself into a group for funding purposes was wrong.

    I truly believe that we all have the ability to contribute without having to judge one another. I think that this type of society is possible as long as the discussion and language leads us there.
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      Jul 1 2013: Hi Joshua! Nice to have you back in the conversation.
      I suggest that perhaps the children can teach us how to coexist if adults stop programming them to believe we are divided.

      I believe the language as a tool has the potential to either divide us, or bring us together, depending on how we use it.

      I also identify with all people because I perceive us to be more the same than different, and it is our differences from which we can learn about each other.
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        Jul 1 2013: Well I apologize if you took my post as judging I merely was hoping to bring the conversation back on point. Your posts give the impression of anger and aggression I hope that this debate has not upset you.

        I thi k it is important to have other discussion but perhaps the questions that are spurred by this could open a new thread.
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      Jul 1 2013: I now understand your scenario better. You had written that someone asked "Who do you relate to?" That question sounded like it is asking who you are most comfortable with.

      I have definitely seen the question you now describe posed on questionnaires "Which do you identify yourself as" and then a list of race categories. I have encountered it only, though, in situations in which answering was optional- unless answering on the Census was mandatory. I am surprised that your workplace can force you to answer, as you suggest they did.
  • Jun 30 2013: Ten years ago Racial divide happened a lot in China .For an example:ShangHai people looked down other places' people to go to shanghai work.But now it has been changed a lot,because ShangHai's developing comes from other places' people's hard work.People from outside of ShangHai to work there,building an amazing city .Then ShangHai people's discrimination disappeared,ShangHai dialect was very popular there before,but now local people learn to speak mandarine,the change sounds natrually.If who shanghai people still keep the stereotype,would be looked down upon by others:low-educated level...ignorant...
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      Jul 1 2013: Are you implying that as we become more integrated and language barriers seem to be breaking down there will be less instances for it to divide?
      • Jul 2 2013: Yes,I meant it:) and meanwhile,better education does help a lot.
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    Jun 29 2013: @Lamar re "

    1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others."

    This definition is very interesting. I completely agree with it. I would go even farther to say that it is immoral to seek any scientific evidence to prove one way or the other. Despite what skeptics and rationalists say about beliefs and evidence, I think, belief that race does not account for such differences is the kind of belief that we must take "on faith" - accept without proof. It does not matter what such research may find. Would you agree?
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    Jun 29 2013: Are you employed at a public or private university? I ask this only because every public school or institution at which I have worked over the last twenty-five years engages in very extensive and almost continuous discussion of such issues of race and diversity.

    I sense from the way you pose your question and from your discussion that this does not happen where you are?
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      Jun 29 2013: Re: " I ask this only because every public school or institution at which I have worked over the last twenty-five years engages in very extensive and almost continuous discussion of such issues of race and diversity."

      Fritzie, don't you think that this "continuous discussion" perpetuates the issue? May be, it's time to stop teaching children that they've "got to be nice to ..." (fill in the blank). Doesn't this also imply that one can be mean to ... (fill in the blank)? When I was a kid, I did not understand why people even mention issues like that because I would never had thought on my own that this could be an issue.

      "You've got to be carefully taught..."
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        Jun 29 2013: Yours is an interesting question. The answer those who do diversity training typically offer to it is that thinking discussions about race are not necessary or no longer necessary is typical of those who enjoy "privilege" in the society.

        I was talking about trainings and discussions among adults rather than children. Is the sort of message you describe here how this has been discussed with your children at their schools? I believe you have school-aged children still?

        Of course adults who have been engaged in discussions with identical content over several decades do start feeling it grows old.
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          Jun 29 2013: Re: "The answer those who do diversity training typically offer to it is that thinking discussions about race are not necessary or no longer necessary is typical of those who enjoy "privilege" in the society."

          The same can be said the other way: those who think that discussions about race is necessary are those who are interested in perpetuating the idea of racial inequality.

          I have school-aged children. I do not discuss the issues of race with them. And I will not unless I would see that I need to address it (if they get wrong ideas from somewhere else).

          I have an Elmo disc with a song teaching kids that they "should not be afraid of the dark", how to overcome the fear of the dark, how things we are afraid in the dark are not scary, etc. It sounds outlandish to me. My kids have NEVER been afraid of the dark. I just put them to bed, turn off the light - and that's about it. They don't even KNOW that they SHOULD be afraid of the dark.

          Teaching these subjects to people who are unaware of them is like showing pornography to children saying "this is the stuff you are not supposed to look at" or teaching them profanity saying "you are not supposed to know these words".

          My son has finished his freshman year in high school. In health class, he had to write long papers on various drugs and what interesting effects they have on the mind. I had no idea that there are such wonderful mushrooms! Thanks for teaching that stuff to my kid!
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        Jun 29 2013: Oh, I know. I am just sharing what those who do these trainings argue.
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      Jun 29 2013: There is a primary and a secondary decision at play here.

      The reason they need to teach diversity (secondary decision) is the primary decision that there is racism.

      Black unemployment was lower than white unemployment until the nanny state passed the Davis Bacon act (secondary decision). Because of the primary decision that Blacks were discriminated against in employment. The truth is that this meme was started after blacks were used in construction jobs that would work cheaper. The unions did not like this so came up with Davis Bacon and prevailing wage which in reality cost Blacks jobs.

      Black graduation is higher without affirmative action. Because of the primary decision that there was racism so they had to institute the secondary decision of affirmative action to give black students a fair chance. This forced schools to accept students they would not ordinarily accept of course these student were not qualified to go to these schools and flunked out.

      The government decided poor people were being discriminated against in house loans so they decided that they need the CRA to force banks to make loans they would not otherwise make. The primary decision was that there was discrimination against poor people regarding home loans. The secondary decision was that there needed to be the CRA. You know the rest of the story.

      The government decided there were too many unemployed people (primary decision) so extended unemployment to 99 weeks (secondary decision) The result was more unemployed people.

      The government decided that illegal aliens did not get enough to eat, support for children, get health care, get housing (primary decision), the secondary decision was to give them section 8 housing, WIC, child support for single mothers, education. Result more illegal aliens. Exacerbated by Reagan and Amnesty.

      We are ALL different to think otherwise would be liberal (non thinking).

      Where is the aid for white people who are not good at sports or good students?
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        Jun 29 2013: Pat, could be nice if you provided references for all the info. You refer to numerical data such as graduation rates, unemployment rates, minimum wage. Not that I disagree or don't believe you, but all of that stuff can be anecdotal and you wouldn't even know it yourself. Numerical data and facts are in a different category than moral beliefs.

        I disagree with affirmative action for a different reason. If we are to stop discrimination, we need to stop taking race into consideration for employment, college admission, housing, credit, etc. - period. Giving advantage to people of color seems to violate that principle. Moreover, it emphasizes the fact that these people need special treatment because they are "underprivileged" or "disadvantaged", essentially, implying their inferiority. Looking at the current U.S. president, it seems to me that it's time to leave these ideas in the past. Affirmative action seems to be adding insult to the injury emphasizing inequality. Do black people object? Does anybody say "hey, we don't need special privileges! we can qualify for college better than whites without your stinky privileges!" Of course, I say this just to keep "MY privileges".
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          Jun 29 2013: Black Unemployment;

          Affimative Action:

          Economic facts and fallacies pg 179


          Affirmative action which began in the 1970s produced little or no effect on the size of black income

          It is hard for me to coax the actual stats out of the BLS tables but these guys are adept at it. They are both Black economists.


          Households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 and paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion, or $2,700 per illegal household.

          Among the largest costs are Medicaid ($2.5 billion); treatment for the uninsured ($2.2 billion); food assistance programs such as food stamps, WIC, and free school lunches ($1.9 billion); the federal prison and court systems ($1.6 billion); and federal aid to schools ($1.4 billion).

          From this:

          It is easy to find read about the CRA.

          The 99 week unemployment extension will be hard to prove. But I have read that whenever it is extended the people tend to stay unemployed longer.
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          Jun 29 2013: Read your own link again this time for time for comprehension.
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        Jun 29 2013: Pat, thanks for the links.

        @pat re: "Read your own link again this time for time for comprehension."

        Pat, this comment does not add any content to what you say. I see it as a personal remark.

        @Lamar re: "I am sure you did not expect anyone else to see through that and cherry picking your data is not a way to provide evidence for your opinion because it will be pointed out."

        Lamar: what Pat expected does not matter. If you disagree with Pat, it's sufficient to explain why you disagree with what he said.

        I say this because I like discussions with both of you, but last time you talked to each other in my own conversation, nobody wanted to comment in it for 3 days and moderators deleted half of the remarks. We need to learn from that.
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          Jun 29 2013: It is a personal remark. I take the trouble to back up my comments at your request and Lamar starts assuming. This is annoying. My policy has been to ignore his trolling except this time, a mistake I will not repeat.
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          Jun 29 2013: I appreciate, Arkady, your encouraging respectful conversations that are about substance rather than personal attack. Personal attacks have ways of snowballing and making thoughtful people start to avoid the whole thread.

          It is particularly unfair effectively to sabotage other people's threads in this way.
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      Jul 1 2013: I work for a state run university in Pennsylvania. I am not saying in any way that the conversation doesn't take place but perhaps not as widely publicized as one would wish. I find it interesting that at other institutions that this topic is discussed with rigor. I am interested to know how some of those conversations play out and what they may directly be related to.
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        Jul 1 2013: Look up "Courageous Conversations" as an example. Also Lisa Delpit of Stanford, I think, and Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley.
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    Jun 27 2013: As you are thinking about language, what do you think of your own use of the term "the racial divide?"
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      Jun 28 2013: Truly I see what you are getting at and perhaps that too is divisive language. I think that this term illustrates the issue at hand though. Because of the language we use to communicate there has been a divide created intentionally or un-intentionally between classes of people.

      In addition, because of these designators we have been able to attach stigmas to them only strengthening the ability to separate and pit people against each other.
  • Jun 27 2013: "Race" and "racial stereotypes" have always existed. What has changed over time is how "race" is defined. For the Romans, "race" was a matter of how well you spoke Latin and/or Greek and whether or not you understood and followed the customs of the Empire. If you did not, you were either a barbarian or a Persian, which were deemed different "races" from Roman.

    Remember, up until the last quarter of the 19th century, the Irish were not deemed to be "white".
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      Jun 27 2013: Exactly, aren't we just continuing that divisive attitude created by the Romans only to be emulated by generations and societies internationally. Don't you think it is time to break these stereotypes by changing the way we communicate about ourselves and others. Are we not continuing the antiquated practice by insisting that people identify with a race? I am not suggesting that we shouldn't celebrate our ethnicity or the diversity of cultures that we hail from. I am merely suggesting that we should no longer divide ourselves in language or reality by race. The connotations connected with the word are in their very nature divisive. This is a learned behavior that we can correct. How do you suggest that we do this?
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      Jun 27 2013: Your post goes to the point that historically and today there have been/are all sorts of divisions of a them/us nature. Many people's identity is in their minds connected to a particular group that is not an ethnicity or race.
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    Jun 27 2013: That is a surprising story. What proportion of the population do you think would interpret "Who do you relate to?" as a question about race? I would guess the vast majority of people would not know what the question meant at all.

    I agree that language can contain assumptions about underlying truths. Mitch linked in another thread a talk by linguist and psychologist George Lakoff in which he analyzed the term 'tax relief" in that context, in the sense of embodying a value judgment.
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      Jun 27 2013: Thanks for you addition. Amazingly, I have asked that question to a great many people and the majority return with a racial designation. I wonder how we are limited by our own perceptions associated with racial stigmas and how eliminating that frame of mind may redirect our focus aimed at blaming racial issues and more on economic disparities where I believe the problem really lies.
      • Jun 27 2013: Josh, I have had similar experiences to the one you describe in the topic explanation.. I have concluded that there is a portion of the population that considers human identity to be primarily social. In this view, identity is derived from the groups of people with whom you mentally and emotionally associate yourself. Some of these people take social identity as a given, and cannot imagine any other way of living. In one case, when I tried to explain that I considered myself primarily as an individual, and that social connections had nothing to do with my core identity, the person could not understand what I meant. In other cases, they could understand, but could not imagine how I could go about daily life in that way.

        My upbringing was very much individualistic, and when I first came upon this attitude I was very puzzled and thought there must be something very wrong with this person. After meeting others with the same attitude, and considerable thought, I started thinking that identity is a choice, and there is nothing intrinsically incorrect or unethical about choosing to build your identity socially. I am curious about what portion of the population thinks/feels this way, but I have no confidence in the people who study these matters, so I have not bothered to look for statistics.

        Sorry if you think this is off topic, but I hope that it helps to build the context for your question..
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          Jun 27 2013: Of course this helps, every aspect, opinion and experience can add to the discussion. Thank you for your story. I too am curious how much of the population has been able to disconnect their identity from race, ethnicity, or any other divider.

          I am not sure of the statistics and am unsure how to even collect that data. Even the U.S. Government through the Census Department divides us into our racial categories. Perhaps that would be a good starting point. Rather than counting us by what division we fit in eliminate the racial data altogether.
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    Jul 3 2013: Josh,
    Interesting thought.
    I think yes. When my grandfather and father came, it was imperative to learn English. That was the language of America,
    Our family came here to be Americans. We came from another country were things were in turmoil, aftermath of war, my grandfather had been a indentured farmer as his fathers or over 300 years when the last invader came to the country. In America, everyone was free and could become American. No more invaders, no more indenture, one could be free and prosper. Well, when we got here, we found it was a lot of hard work to be American and even saw a few whose grandfathers came here as indentured or slaves. But, this country was the best there was and the freest
    So, what happened. About 50 years ago, the new social bend was that American was not one big country full of Americans, it was one big country full of hyphenated Americans. Each with their own culture, their own language, Each hyphen was a ethnic, linguistic, racial, social, and financial group and a few groups I am not even aware of. As these groups formed and divided America. the first and biggest changes came in language, At first, the way they pronounced 'car' in Boston was a form of amusement in Los Angeles is now a contention.
    Schools are trying to keep up with all the languages of people coming to America. Not like when I came, I was to learn English in school and go to college and make something of myself. Now schools are workings with two dozen languages of various hyphenated Americans and there are groups of hyphenated Americans whose language is not being taught. .
    Americans today have a multitude of cultures and there are those who revel in the idea that they have their culture and do not have to share cultures with those other hyphenated American and their cultures.
    I see a future where multicultural, multilingualistic America will decide it is just too hard to stay one country and break up into a bunch of smaller states
  • Jul 2 2013: Language controls the pattern of information availability. As meaning creatures developing understandings of those sets in 'real time' as ourselves and others generate them in conversation, language inherently limits what ideas we can come to (or rather the speed at which we are likely to come to them). I think people take language for granted instead of an evolutionary tool. Tool's have a lot of tasks and it's important, I think, to know those to which language is applied.

    I don't think stereotyping will ever disappear. I'm sure most systems need to class objects in some way, regardless of inner working, for the purpose of dealing with them. Doing so will invariably lead to stereotyping. What's missing from the stereotype language, I think, is the degree of uncertainty (English deals with decision making and probability horribly in my opinion).
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      Jul 2 2013: Interesting perspective. So you think that stereotyping needs to exist so that we can classify things? If so, don't you think that is limiting our ability to accept one another? Most importantly though, we need to classify objects but do we need to classify people?

      What do we gain through this type of classification?

      I think we could eliminate classifying people all together, if we did we could eliminate borders, immigration, segregation, privilege, ect.... I think this is possible and I agree that language is a tool but don't you feel that sometime we use it as if we are hammering a nail with the back of a screw gun?

      I like the direction you were headed though, how can we more effectively use the tool to eliminate division between races, sexual orientations, religions ect...
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    Jun 29 2013: Here is an interesting perspective on the usage of the N-word.

    John McWhorter is a speaker at TED

    I've heard a program on NPR where it was mentioned that N-word is now used by black people to make white people feel shame and guilt. In a sense, it's used as a tool to dominate white people.
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      Jun 29 2013: That is an interesting article Arkady, and the author, John McWhorter says..."The affectionate use of the n-word was well established a century ago". I suggest the origin goes way back further than that.... maybe the 15th century, to Niger, Africa?

      I don't think black people ever stopped using the term. Malcolm X and co author Alex Haley used the term throughout the "Autobiography of Malcolm X "(published in the early 60s). I cringed every time I saw the word, which was used many times throughout the book. It was difficult for me to even read the word, and I kept reminding myself that if they wanted to call themselves that, they had a right to. It still gave me an odd feeling because of all the negativity that has attached to the word.
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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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    Jun 28 2013: You are right Barry, this debate has taken Race as the key component to everyones argument. I think you have taken it in the direction I am most interested in here. The negative attitudes associated with Race. It's just a word but yet the meaning is so heavy because of the unwritten connotations contained.

    The question is how do we improve the language to shift the perception and connotations attached.
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      Jun 29 2013: Do we need to change the language to shift the perception and connotations attached? Or do we need to shift the perceptions, connotation, and negative attitudes which cause language to be used inappropriately? I suggest the latter.
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    Jun 28 2013: Give the racism thing a rest.
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      Jun 28 2013: That's right. Perhaps, unless we feel oppressed ourselves, we shouldn't raise these issues. These language wars and political correctness can get absurd. I've read stories on the Internet where a University professor got an anxiety attack when a student referred to Nelson Mandela as "black". The professor insisted to call him "African-American". In another case, a reporter interviewing a black person repeatedly called him "African-American" to which the person replied "I'm not African and I'm not American. I'm British." For whom race is an issue? It seems to be an issue for those who mention it. So, people who don't feel oppressed or discriminated shouldn't even mention it, it seems.

      Euphemisms are a sign of hypocrisy. When we use a euphemism, everyone is still aware of the original meaning, so why not use the original word in the first place? Moreover, euphemisms emphasize that there is a problem with the original word. Euphemisms quickly replace the original word in the common speech and gain the meaning of the original word. So, very soon people start using euphemisms for euphemisms.

      I'd say, we know that we don't have an issue with race when we don't even know that there is such issue. This is why I love the answer "human race". It's like raising the eyebrows and asking "What do you mean by that?" But Joshua still understood what the question is about and posted this debate on TED. This means that the problem is still there. So, I agree with Pat too - perhaps we should give racism a rest (unless it's really an issue for us).
  • Jun 27 2013: My short answer is Yes, but things are getting better.

    Language changes with the culture, and culture is just beginning to take a more objective attitude about race.

    I think of these issues in the historical context. Historically, the notion that all races are equal is brand new. Even today, people are still wondering about the success of dark colored athletes. Recently an episode of Through the Wormhole was entitled "Is There A Superior Race?" In another century or so all questions about race will be answered and our concern with it in the early 21st century will be a historical curiosity; people will wonder how these issues took so long to resolve. I have been criticized for viewing ethical issues with insufficient urgency. It is certainly true that history is not a reason to condone any form of current injustice. Many people are trying to find the right way to deal with balancing diversity and equality. The good news is that there are so many people of good will who are ready and willing to change. Not all of them agree on just how we should change. We are still figuring out how to change our culture for the better, and how to better express ourselves.
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      Jun 28 2013: Perhaps a start would be not to look for a 'superior race' but to accept that we are all part of the human race. The differences between us are merely learned behavior nothing more. Balancing the diversity is more about understanding and accepting multiple cultures without judgement.

      We should celebrate each other and the traditions of our cultures but should that define us?
      • Jun 28 2013: I disagree. The possibility of a superior race is a valid hypothesis. It is possible that the genetic differences that result in different races could be associated with other genetic traits that could be advantageous compared to other races. Especially considering the historical context, in which some races assume their own superiority, investigating this question is necessary.

        We are still in transition. There is no possibility that the world will suddenly discard the concept of race and behave as though we are all one race. Since I have no use for race, I think discarding the concept of race would be a good goal, but there are others who value their racial identity and do not agree with that goal. What defines us is an individual decision. We should all accept that.

        Racial identity might be very useful for teaching children that diversity is good.
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      Jun 27 2013: I agree accountability is key and if we were to stop the excuse making, language barriers are just one of them, focusing on who's the minority and how they are oppressed. Rather than teaching our children to have an inclusive approach we continue to teach them language that inherently divides. Instead of human race we say that we are black, caucasian, hispanic, or asian.

      I can say unequivocally, I am a member of the human race and I have empathy, not sympathy, for all my brothers and sisters, and I am accountable for my actions to all people. This is the culture we need to create. We need to eliminate dividing language like race, or ethnicity. There should be no room in our vocabulary for words that keep anyone else at arms length.

      To truly be a progressive society we need to be a united front in all area's we need to eliminate special treatment for any group and get back to a merit based system. Our focus should be improving the quality of life for all not just the affluent but everyone. We are the opportunities we create for ourselves and those opportunities have no boundaries created by race unless we let them.
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          Jun 28 2013: I appreciate your point of view and can certainly see your perspective. However, I don't think that we need to assimilate anyone into any culture. I think we need to accept all cultures and nurture relationships without separation. We need to change the culture to reflect the need for acceptance and inclusion without discrimination. I think that language, discrimination included, provides people with the opportunity to view themselves as different than other people. I am aware that I am different but not at my core, I have a beating heart and so does the next person. I have feelings and so does the next. I have thoughts and ideas and so does the next.

          I am not suggesting that we take away the protections of any people right now. I would however, suggest that we begin to adjust the cultural perspective so that we eliminate the need for special protections for any one person over another.

          I believe that language, how we communicate ideas, perspectives, and opinions with each other is the starting ground for that cultural shift. If instead of insisting that people identify with a race or ethnicity perhaps we could have people define themselves and others by there moral stand point or ethical practices. Then we could begin the process of acceptance for all people alike without having to divide groups by color, ethnicity, culture, creed, or sexual orientation.

          I believe that these are all things that make us up but we can not be defined by any one of them. There are no clear defined boundaries here. So, if we eliminate these pieces of language and shift perception to accept people for people regardless fo these designators then and only then will we truly be able to accomplish eliminating a divided world.
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          Jun 28 2013: You're right however, aren't you afraid that acculturation would in fact cause even a minimal loss of cultural identity. I suppose that would be the point though, create and build a cohesive culture that is one so there is no separation.

          Is this what you are suggesting?
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          Jun 28 2013: Very true, they are celebrated however, I would not say they were assimilated into our society. I live near Amish country and I can tell you that they keep their families most often at arms length from the rest of the U.S. population. They are a private people that tolerate the intrusions by the weekend tourists but at the very heart of it, they lead a very separate life from the rest of us.

          I would also postulate that we have accepted their craftsmanship but not their culture. I have too often witnessed first hand the beeping car behind their buggys because they weren't going fast enough. Personally, I use this as an opportunity to slow down and experience what is around me. I don't get agitated by it.

          To a certain degree enculturation takes place regardless of intent even the amish send their young to be tempted by our ways.

          I suppose a good question here is how do you LaMar Alexander define yourself? Is it by your race, ethnicity, religion? Now which aspect of you defines you? Remember based on the language we use daily you can only pick one.

          I hear constantly, "He didn't have the same opportunities, I mean he's a poor" insert... white, black, asian, mexican, and more just pick a racial divider/designator.

          Or,"he's not going to be good at that sport he's"...insert white, black, asian, mexican, and more just pick a racial divider/designator.

          The color of my skin or ethnic background does not preclude me from advancement, determination, accountability or opportunity. We make our own opportunities, and we create them through determination and accountability. No excuses.

          Our language allows us the excuse to blame our skin color for our imperfections. This I don't agree with. Everyone is born with infinite potential why not help nurture that potential instead of secularize it.