“Minority”: Thinking beyond the stereotype

This is a word cloud that associates words to minorities.

By Starr Lewis ’18

Who defines words nowadays? Who gives labels and rankings to those who are below and above in our society? Who even defines who is above and below “us” citizens of the United States?

“Minority,” in my experience, has the reputation of being a negative and commonly used word referring to Latinos, Blacks, and Asians. Being a young African American woman myself, I can relate to this on a very personal level. Despite the assumptions made that anyone who is not white is the minority, in reality, the term “minority” is not centered on any specific race.

The word minority, though, has so many different meanings. What we may best know minority as, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, is the smaller part or number; a number, part, or amount forming less than half of the whole.”

So yes, the word minority does mean this, but it can mean so much more. For example, the term minority may refer to a group that’s subordinate, lower in position,  to the majority population in the U.S.

“Minority,” has been used to describe a group of people who is treated as if they are inferior to white people. Unfortunately, when used to describe racial groups, the word minority provokes this connotation, whether they are intended or not. I decided to share this somewhat new perspective on the term minority in hopes of influencing others. A sociologist, Richard T. Schaefer, noted a firmer definition on what a minority group is: “A subordinate group whose members have significantly less control or power over their lives than members of a dominant or majority group.” This definition sets a different tone to how the previous definition was presented. It shows that any race can be a minority whether it’s in the U.S. or any other country worldwide.

For instance, in Detroit, Michigan, the population of blacks is significantly larger than that of whites. To be more specific, black people make up about 80% of the entire population in Detroit. Despite these numbers, people still refer to black people in Detroit as “minorities,” perhaps out of habit, or out of preconceived judgements on the status of black people. In addition to the previous numbers, a place very close to my heart depicts this use of “minority” similar to those in Detroit. According to a population demographic of Chicago, white people are the minority. The percentage that white people make up in Chicago is of 44%, which is higher than the percentage of African Americans make up, being 32%, yet when talking in reference to all, the percentage of people of color within Chicago makes up to be 60% of Chicago’s population. That number consists of Blacks, African Americans, and Latinos, who are the main focus as how the word minority is continuously misused. So if we are talking about numbers here and not  financial or hierarchal  status, then doesn’t this mean anyone of any size, shape, or color of their skin can be a minority?

I’ve made this mistake too. Up until recently, I often referred to black and Hispanic people as “minorities,” specifically because I’ve always seen them treated as “lesser than” white people in society. In the media, I often see blacks and Hispanics receiving negative attention for violence, poverty, drug use, and other actions that society says are undesirable, and that has played a role in my use of the word “minority.” It’s dissatisfying because I, being the growing black woman that I am, do not want to continue to see or perceive anyone who is not white to be the “minority” because of positions in power or ranking that society automatically gives these people.

“Minority,” because it has had such a negative connotation, needs to be brought to light.  Now that the word minority can surface and hopefully not be used as something so negatively defined, think for a second and ask yourself, now, what exactly is a minority, and should we ever refer to anyone as a minority?

The reason behind addressing something that is wrong is not to shame those doing it but to allow people to correct themselves and learn from a previously unrecognized mistake. It is best to become more precise with our words and personal encounters than to regroup those who are already trapped in their stereotypical categories. Now, this is the time to strive for a nation in which, as suggested by the wise Martin Luther King, “[people]will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”