My Identity is Not My Obstacle

America Ferrera TED Talk

Before America Ferrera even begins her speech, at least some of her ethos is developed for her. She is a successful actress, director, producer, and activist. Even if the audience didn’t know that, they would believe her to be somewhat credible of a speaker because TED Talks aren’t given by just anybody.  She has some inherent credibility to speak on a struggle regarding identity, because as an American woman of color, she has certainly experienced it. She makes sure to establish her credibility as well, detailing how she has struggled in her career because of her identity and the stereotypes that come with it. She also increases her ethos by connecting herself to other strong women of color; she mentions Malala Yousafzai was inspired by the show Ugly Betty, which Ferrera starred in, and includes pictures of successful women, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, when talking about the importance of representation. She is dressed well in a maroon suit, but her hair is natural and down, and she wears sneakers, giving her a more comfortable, everyday appearance. Her tone rarely varies from sincerity, interrupted only by well timed humor, and a little breakthrough of emotion (well timed pathos).

She engages with the audience through techniques like strong eye contact, humor, gesturing, and the use of a commonplace narrative – one of dreams, hard work, and insecurity. Her material is organized as a narrative. She begins, as is common, with a story of her childhood dream (becoming an actress), and then takes the audience through some of the important highlights of her career. Information and emotion about success and rejection are interwoven in the narrative of the speech, with supporting images on the screen in the background. She then switches from an explanation of her own narrative to the lessons she learned from it, the main points she wants to convey to the audience. Ferrera gives them what she believes is a solution to the problems she laid out earlier in the speech. “If I could tell that nine year old anything, it would be this. My identity is not my obstacle. My identity is my superpower.” She finishes with connecting to the audience, saying that “We are what the world looks like.” and challenging systems to stop ignoring the reality they exist in.

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