In-group/Out-group

Who is included when we speak of 'our history'? Consider the opening to this sentence: 'Most Australians continue to see Aborigines ...' By implication the category 'Aborigines' is outside the category of 'Australians'. A more careful speaker might write 'most non-Aboriginal Australians continue to see Aboriginal Australians ...' In such a construction an attempt is being made to treat the two groups as equals. By contrast in the first version, the them/us dichotomy is unconsciously strengthened.

Another common example is noticeable when journalists describe a person as 'Asian' to suggest that the person so described is outside the 'in' group - Australians. In such constructions the category of 'Aborigines' or 'Asians' is in contrast to the term 'Australians'. One of the real dangers of this often unconscious practice is that groups are identified by racial characteristics, which are then used to exclude them from the dominant group. Who is included in the 'we'?

Collective pronouns are powerful yet subtle weapons in forming groups - 'us' and 'them', 'we' and 'they'. Communities are created and outsiders are defined. When pronouns are used to highlight and separate people, the speaker can create a sense of community or of 'the other'. This can have the effect on 'the other' of being the outsider who is either marginalised, made exotic or different. What happens to a community when 'they' become 'us', when 'these people' become 'our people'? Is it not worthwhile for our students to imagine our Australian community as including Indigenous communities and the range of immigrant communities all living in this land now? Who is included in the 'we'?

The challenge is for students to grow to the realisation that language can be used in overt and subtle ways to denigrate and exclude. Words can act as weapons. Education for the developing citizen is about recognising their power and using them with consideration.