Although apartheid officially ended in 1994, the issue of race as a primary identity marker has continued to permeate many aspects of private and public life in post-apartheid South Africa. This paper seeks to understand how youth at two South African tertiary institutions position themselves in relation to race and the apartheid past. Our data include four focus group interviews from two universities, one which can be described as historically ‘black’ and the other as historically ‘white’. Given the complex nature of the data, we elected to use a combination of corpus linguistics and discourse analysis as our methodological approach. We explore how words such as black, white, coloured, they, we, us and them feature in the interviews. Our analysis shows that the positioning by the interviewees reflects a complexity and ambivalence that is at times contradictory although several broader discourse patterns can be distilled. In particular, we argue, that all groups employ a range of discursive strategies so as to resist being positioned in the historical positions of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’. Our paper reflects on these findings as well as what they offer us as we attempt to chart new discourses of the future.