Minority group

Minority group

A minority is a sociological group within a demographic. The demographic could be based on many factors from ethnicity, gender, wealth, power, etc. The term extends to numerous situations, and civilizations within history, despite the misnomer of minorities associated with a numerical statistic. Therefore the term causes confusion within the many definitions of a minority group.

The term "minority group" often occurs alongside a discourse of civil rights and collective rights which gained prominence in the 20th century. Members of minority groups are prone to different treatment in the countries and societies in which they live. This discrimination may be directly based on an individual's perceived membership of a minority group, without consideration of that individual's personal achievement. It may also occur indirectly, due to social structures that are not equally accessible to all. Activists campaigning on a range of issues may use the language of minority rights, including student rights, consumer rights and animal rights.


Controversial issues

Refers to members of minority groups. The term is used to address the controversy with the use of the word minority.[1] Cultural diversity definitions can be as controversial as diversity projects and initiatives. The word minority is an example; it has an academic and colloquial usage. Academics refer to power differences among groups, rather than differences in population size among groups. Barzilai (2003) [2]

Feagin (1984) [3] states that a minority group has five characteristics: (1) suffering discrimination and subordination, (2) physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group, (3) a shared sense of collective identity and common burdens, (4) socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not determine minority status, and (5) tendency to marry within the group. In South Africa under apartheid, Caucasian-South Africans were a majority even though there were many more black South Africans.

In the United States, the term majority refers to a group that is larger in population size and controls economic, political, and social resources. Given the shift of people of color growing in size that trends indicate will make them a majority, some argue that Caucasian-Americans should no longer be considered the majority.

Historically excluded groups (HEGs) is a term that points out the differences among different groups based on the degree of experiencing oppression and domination. The Feagin defining features are maintained while overcoming the complication with using demographics.

Sociology of minority groups

Sociologist Louis Wirth defined a minority group as "a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination."[4] This definition includes both objective and subjective criteria: membership of a minority group is objectively ascribed by society, based on an individual's physical or behavioral characteristics; it is also subjectively applied by its members, who may use their status as the basis of group identity or solidarity. In any case, minority group status is categorical in nature: an individual who exhibits the physical or behavioral characteristics of a given minority group will be accorded the status of that group and be subject to the same treatment as other members of that group.

Racial or ethnic minorities

Every large society contains ethnic minorities. Their style of life, language, culture and origin can differ from the majority. The minority status is conditioned not only by a clearly numerical relations but also by questions of political power. In some places, subordinate ethnic groups may constitute a numerical majority, such as e.g. Blacks in South Africa under apartheid. In addition to the "traditional" (long time resident) minorities they may be migrant, indigenous or landless nomadic communities. There is no legal definition of national (ethnic) minorities in international law. Only in Europe is this exact definition (probably) provided by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and by the Recommendation 1201 (1993) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. However, national minority can be theoretically (not legally)[5] defined as a group of people within a given national state:

  1. which is numerically smaller than the rest of population of the state or a part of the state
  2. which is not in a dominant position
  3. which has culture, language, religion, race etc. distinct from that of the majority of the population
  4. whose members have a will to preserve their specificity
  5. whose members are citizens of the state where they have the status of a minority.
  6. which have a long-term presence on the territory where it has lived.

International criminal law can protect the rights of racial or ethnic minorities in a number of ways.[6] The right to self-determination is a key issue. The formal level of protection of national (ethnic) minorities is highest in European countries.[7]

Gender and sexuality minorities

An understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a minority group or groups has gained prominence in the Western world since the 19th century. The abbreviation LGBT is currently used to group these identities together. The term queer is sometimes understood as an umbrella term for all non-normative sexualities and gender expressions, but does not always seek to be understood as a minority; rather, as with many Gay Liberationists of the 1960s and '70s, it sometimes represents an attempt to uncover and embrace the sexual diversity in everyone.

While in most societies, numbers of men and women are roughly equal, the status of women as a "subordinate" group has led some (i.e. the feminist and Women's Rights movements) to equate them with minorities.[8] In addition, various gender variant people can be seen as constituting a minority group or groups, such as intersexuals, transsexuals, and gender nonconformists (i.e. metrosexuals) — especially when such phenomena are understood as intrinsic characteristics of an identifiable group. (see The Yogyakarta Principles)

Religious minorities

Persons belonging to religious minorities have a faith which is different from that held by the majority. Most countries of the world have religious minorities. It is now widely accepted in the west that people should have the freedom to choose their own religion, including not having any religion (atheism or agnosticism), and including the right to convert from one religion to another. However in many countries this freedom is constricted. For example in Egypt, a new system of identity cards[9] requires all citizens to state their religion - and the only choices are Islam, Christianity or Judaism (See Egyptian identification card controversy).

A 2006 study suggests that atheists constitute a religious minority in the United States, with researchers concluding: "Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry."[10]

Age minorities

The elderly, while traditionally influential or even (in a gerontocracy) dominant in the past, have in the modern age usually been reduced to the minority role of economically 'non-active' groups.[citation needed] Children can also be understood as a minority group in these terms, and the discrimination faced by the young is known as adultism. Discrimination against the elderly is known as ageism.

Various local and international statutes are in place to mitigate the exploitation of children, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as a number of organizations that make up the children's rights movement. The youth rights movement campaigns for social empowerment for young people, and against the legal and social restrictions placed on legal minors. Groups that advocate the interests of senior citizens range from the charitable (Help the Aged) to grass-roots activism (Gray Panthers), and often overlap with disability rights issues.

People with disabilities

The Disability rights movement has contributed to an understanding of people with disabilities (including not to be called 'disabled') as a minority or a coalition of minorities who are disadvantaged by society, not just as people who are disadvantaged by their impairments. Advocates of disability rights emphasise difference in physical or psychological functioning, rather than inferiority — for example, some people with autism argue for acceptance of neurodiversity, much as opponents of racism argue for acceptance of ethnic diversity. The Deaf community is often regarded as a linguistic and cultural minority rather than a group with disabilities, and many Deaf people do not see themselves as having a disability at all. Rather, they are disadvantaged by technologies and social institutions that are designed to cater for the dominant group. (see the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)

Minorities in law and government

In the politics of some countries, a minority is an ethnic group that is recognized as such by respective laws of its country and therefore has some rights that other groups lack. Speakers of a legally-recognized minority language, for instance, might have the right to education or communication with the government in their mother tongue. Countries that have special provisions for minorities include Canada, China, Ethiopia, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, the United Kingdom.

Differing minority groups often are not given identical treatment. Some groups are too small or too indistinct compared to the majority, that they either identify as part of the same nation as the members of the majority, or they identify as a separate nation but are ignored by the majority because of the costs or some other aspect of providing preferences. For example, a member of a particularly small ethnic group might be forced to check "Other" on a checklist of different backgrounds, and consequently might receive fewer privileges than a member of a more defined group.

Many contemporary governments prefer to assume the people they rule all belong to the same nationality rather than separate ones based on ethnicity. The United States asks for race and ethnicity on its official census forms, which thus breaks up and organizes its population into different sub-groups, but primarily on racial origin rather than national one. Spain does not divide its nationals by ethnic group, although it does maintain an official notion of minority languages.

Some minorities are so relatively large or historically or otherwise important that the system is set up in a way to guarantee them comprehensive protection and political representation. As an example, the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognizes the three main nations, none of which constitute a numerical majority, as constitutive nations, see nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, other minorities such as Roma and Jews, are officially labelled as "others" and are excluded from many of these protections - for example they may not be elected to a range of high political positions including the presidency.[11]

The issue of establishing minority groups, and determining the extent of privileges they might derive from their status, is controversial. There are some who argue that minorities are owed special recognition and rights, while others feel that minorities are unjustified in demanding special rights, as this amounts to preferential discrimination and could hamper the ability of the minority to integrate itself into mainstream society - perhaps to the point at which the minority follows a path to separatism or supremacism. In Canada, some feel that the failure of the dominant English-speaking majority to integrate French Canadians has given rise to Quebec separatism.

Affirmative action

One particularly controversial issue is affirmative action. This can be, for example, a government program to provide immigrant or minority groups who primarily speak a marginalized language with extra teaching in the majority language, so that they are better able to compete for places at university or for jobs. These may be considered necessary because the minority group in question is socially disadvantaged. Another form of affirmative action is quotas, where a percentage of places at university, or in employment in public services, are set aside for minority groups because a court has found that there has been a history of exclusion as it pertains to certain groups in certain sectors of society.

Opposing views from Objectivists

Adherents of Ayn Rand's laissez-faire philosophy of Objectivism regard people every person as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to one's life, a right derived from his/her nature as a rational being. Objectivism holds that a civilized society, or any form of association, cooperation or peaceful coexistence among people, can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual rights and that a group, as such, has no rights other than the individual rights of its members. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. Since only an individual person can possess rights, the expression "individual rights" is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos), but the expression "collective rights" is a contradiction in terms. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).[12][13]

See also


  1. ^ Diversity Training University International (2008). Cultural Diversity Glossary of Terms. Diversity Training University International Publications Division. pp. 4. 
  2. ^ Barzilai, Gad (2003). Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities. University of Michigan Press. 
  3. ^ Fegin, Joe R.; Joe R. Fegin (1984 (2nd edition)). Racial and Ethnic Relations. Prentice-Hall. pp. 10. ISBN 0-13-75012-0. 
  4. ^ Wirth, L: "The Problem of Minority Groups.", page 347 in Ralph Linton (ed.), The Science of Man in the World Crisis. New York:Columbia University Press, 1945. The political scientist and law professor, Gad Barzilai, has offered a theoretical definition of non-ruling communities that conceptualizes groups that don't rule and are excluded from resources of political power. Barzilai, G. Communities and Law: Politics and Cultures of Legal Identities.. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  5. ^ Daniel Šmihula (2009. "Definition of national minorities in international law", in Journal of US-China Public Administration, Vol. 6, No. 5, October 2009, pp.45-51
  6. ^ Lyal S. Sunga (2004). International Criminal Law: Protection of Minority Rights, Beyond a One-Dimensional State: An Emerging Right to Autonomy? ed. Zelim Skurbaty. (2004) 255-275.
  7. ^ Daniel Šmihula (2008). "National Minorities in the Law of the EC/EU", in Romanian Journal of European Affairs, Vol. 8 no. 3, Sep. 2008, pp.51-81.
  8. ^ Hacker, Helen Mayer. 1951. Women as a minority group. Social Forces, 30, 1951, pp.60-69. Article online
  9. ^ See "The Situation of the Bahá'í Community of Egypt" and "Religion Today: Bahais' struggle for recognition reveals a less tolerant face of Egypt", Bahai.org, DWB.sacbee.com
  10. ^ The ultimate outsiders? Reported on website www.atheists.org, March 25, 2006.
  11. ^ Opinion of the Council of Europe's Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, in particular paragraphs 37-43
  12. ^ Ayn Rand, "Individualism" Ayn Rand Lexicon.
  13. ^ Ayn Rand (1961), "Collectivized 'Rights,'" The Virtue of Selfishness.

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  • minority group — Since the 1930s this term has been applied to social groups that are oppressed or stigmatized on the basis of racial, ethnic, biological, or other characteristics. Louis Wirth , for example, defines a minority group as ‘a group of people who,… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • minority group — minority (def. 3). [1960 65] * * * …   Universalium

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  • minority group —  Меньшинство …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

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  • Minority Rights Group International — Type Non governmental organization Founded 1960s Location London, United Kingdom …   Wikipedia