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: 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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism. 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).

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