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Who We Exclude When We Say "We"

June 23, 2013, 6:00 AM

When I speak about "we," it gets very complex very quickly. Having grown up in the United States, but also being very much a member of Nigerian societies and also different parts of Nigerian societies, I understand that we construct particular "we's."

There are multiple levels of "we" and multiple groups that can constitute this idea of who we are. We need to be aware of who we are including and excluding.  You can start on the very local level in a rural area of Nigeria where "we" might be all the people in a particular village who don't have HIV/AIDS and the other is that one person who does who then gets excluded. 

You can take that up a level and say it's a certain section of the country of Nigeria that people feel is more at risk for getting HIV/AIDS. You could say "We, the larger Nigerian society who supposedly doesn't deal with HIV/AIDS or practices or conditions that allow for the spread of the epidemic we just don't do what they do, they're different from us."

And then you can take this to a continental or a global level, in which "we" ends up being the rest of the world versus this particular continent where things are just out of whack. The less aware we are of the fact that we actually do construct this idea of "we," the less likely we are to be able to deal with this problem of making someone other and including someone within a particular fold.

I think the more complex your idea of who someone is or who a particular group is the less able you are to separate "we" and "outside" or "us and them."  I think that that's something that we really, really need to pay attention to.  Sometimes I think when I refer to "we" I also I refer to people who think about this issue, the larger global population who is interested in the epidemic and what it means, that community of folks that again could be more vigilant in thinking about how they construct images of themselves or how they construct images of people that they are trying to help or societies that are affected by the epidemic and societies that people think are in need of change.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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