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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    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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