Ethnic Minority

A minority group is a sociological category within a demographic. Rather than a relational "social group", as the term would indicate, the term refers to a category that is differentiated and defined by the social majority, that is, those who hold the majority of positions of social power in a society. The differentiation can be based on one or more observable human characteristics, including, for example, ethnicity, race, gender, wealth, health or sexual orientation. Usage of the term is applied to various situations and civilizations within history, despite its popular mis-association with a numerical, statistical minority. In the social sciences, the term "minority" is used to refer to categories of persons who hold few positions of social power.

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.


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.[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.

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 and linguistic 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" (longtime 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 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. 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, by some, perceived 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 and/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. 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 some 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)

Political minorities

One of the most controversial minorities in the United States and various other countries has been communists. Along with the Red Scare and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg the United States ran open campaigns to eliminate communism in the United States. An important note is that not all people who were persecuted as communists actually were. Many civil rights activists of various types were also seen as pushing a communist agenda of equality.

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, Croatia, and 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.[11]

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 constitutes 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.[12]

The issue of establishing minority groups, and determining the extent of privileges they might derive from their status, is the subject of some debate. One view[13] is that the application of special rights to minority groups may be inappropriate in some countries, for example newly established states in Africa or Latin America (not founded on the European nation-state model), where recognition and rights accorded to specific groups may interfere with the state's need to establish a cohesive identity, and 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. This position is countered by those[14] that assert that members of minorities require specific provisions and rights to ensure that they are not marginalised within society (for example, bilingual education may be needed to allow linguistic minorities to fully integrate into the school system and hence compete on a level playing field in society), and that rights for minorities, far from weakening the nation-building project, actually strengthen it; where members of minorities see that their specific needs and ambitions have been acknowledged and catered for, they will commit themselves more willingly to accepting the legitimacy of the nation and their integration (as opposed to assimilation) within it.

Affirmative action

Main article: 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.

See also

Sociology portal


External links

  • Union of Minority Shareholders
  • ECMI - European Centre for Minority Issues
  • What is a Minority Group? definitions from Dayton Law School.
  • From Paris to Cairo: Resistance of the Unacculturated
  • Minorities at Risk project at the University of Maryland
  • MINELRES - Minority Electronic Resources
  • European Academy Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC)
  • Eurominority - Stateless and national minorities portal
  • State of the World's Minorities, an annual report by Minority Rights Group International
  • American Psychological Association's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs
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