What Are Minority Groups?

Diversity and minority status are words in such common use it is easy to lose track of their meaning or at least the meaning we wish to convey. When we speak of groups showing considerable diversity, implicitly, we are saying that there is a considerable mix of people. Here is the technical definition of diversity: “(1) the condition of having or being composed of differing elements; variety, especially the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization. (2) an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities; an instance of being diverse.

When we say an individual represents a minority we often are trying to say they represent a disenfranchised minority. That is not always the case but in discussing diversity issues it often is. Here is the discussion of the issue of minority status. Hopefully it will prove interesting and informative.

“What Are Minority Groups? Sociologist Louis Wirth (1945) defined a minority group as “any 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.” The term minority connotes discrimination, and in its sociological use, the term subordinate group can be used interchangeably with the term minority, while the term dominant group is often substituted for the group that’s in the majority. These definitions correlate to the concept that the dominant group is that which holds the most power in a given society, while subordinate groups are those who lack power compared to the dominant group.

Note that being a numerical minority is not a characteristic of being a minority group; sometimes larger groups can be considered minority groups due to their lack of power. It is the lack of power that is the predominant characteristic of a minority, or subordinate group. For example, consider apartheid in South Africa, in which a numerical majority (the black inhabitants of the country) were exploited and oppressed by the white minority.

According to Charles Wagley and Marvin Harris (1958), a minority group is distinguished by five characteristics: (1) unequal treatment and less power over their lives, (2) distinguishing physical or cultural traits like skin color or language, (3) involuntary membership in the group, (4) awareness of subordination, and (5) high rate of in-group marriage. Additional examples of minority groups might include the LBGT community, religious practitioners whose faith is not widely practiced where they live, and people with disabilities.

Scapegoat theory, developed initially from Dollard’s (1939) Frustration-Aggression theory, suggests that the dominant group will displace its unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group. History has shown us many examples of the scapegoating of a subordinate group. An example from the last century is the way Adolf Hitler was able to blame the Jewish population for Germany’s social and economic problems. In the United States, recent immigrants have frequently been the scapegoat for the nation’s—or an individual’s—woes. Many states have enacted laws to disenfranchise immigrants; these laws are popular because they let the dominant group scapegoat a subordinate group.”

In closing which seems simple and straightforward in fact but may not be. Other concepts which may complicate our thinking but are important include the idea of insuring diversity and inclusion. Someone might say our group must be diverse. Is that an artificial concept and doesn’t really address the issues of full inclusion? Inclusion is another complex concept. To include suggests there is one who includes and is the subject of the inclusion. Basically we’re saying Group A will let Group B in. The implication is that the dominant social group has the power to let in a subordinate group. This perpetuates the power of the group which acts as gatekeeper. In the area of minority relations this is a very problematic concept. Without in anyway trying to totally elucidate the issue one needs to reflect on these complex issues and not assume that if we have fostered diversity and inclusion we have really addressed the problem of systemic racism at hand.


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