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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 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 agree......it 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 ask....how 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 ask....do 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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