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America and the Minority Word: Some Ethnic Groups Acquire Code Names

"Writers, intellectuals and the media refer to African Americans, Latinos and other people of color as minorities, but it is an inappropriate appellation".

The mainstream media, intellectuals and others often use the term “minority” to refer to one or several of America’s ethnic groups.

According to Webster’s New Students Dictionary, minority means: “the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole…a part of a population differing from other groups in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment.” The base word of minority is “minor.” The dictionary defines minor as: “inferior in dignity, rank, or importance…inferior in number, quantity, or extent…”

The Origin of Minority

The term developed in the 1970s as one of the mainstream outcomes of defining the group many Americans saw as benefiting from the Civil Rights Movement – African Americans. Although many people at that time interpreted “minority” to mean African Americans, the social definition of the term still was not crystal clear. What helped to blur the term’s meaning was the federal authority’s expansion of it to include women as they fought to push Equal Rights Amendment legislation through Congress and the states.

Women and Minority

Somehow, American authorities equated African American oppression, including disfranchisement and segregation with sexual discrimination even though 50 percent of the African American population was female. Therefore, the push to include women in the definition of minority meant, “white women,” even though they never faced lynching, segregation, and since 1920 (19th Amendment), disfranchisement. Sexual discrimination is a real problem in American society, but the government passed the 1964-1965 Voting Rights Acts to outlaw voting discrimination not based on sex but on race (Cruse 362, 363).

Clarification of the Term

Since women outnumber men and African American women involuntarily received the double minority label, conservatives determined that the term could not apply to women in general. The Reagan administration decided that “minority” progress, meaning African American progress, toward better treatment in society had gone far enough. Conservatives felt that the “equality struggle” infringed upon the rights and privileges of the white ethnics. They objected to affirmative action and related programs, so Reagan slashed them. As he reversed many of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, it became clear “the term ‘minority’ was a code word for blacks” (Cruse 363).

Minorities Today

In present day language, minority means ethnic groups in the U.S. that are not descendants of Europe. For example, in The Brief American Pageant Vol. II, the authors say, “…but in the late twentieth century, minorities made up a majority of the population of many American cities, as whites fled to the suburbs” (641). While no ethnic group amounts to more than 50 percent of the total population, all ethnic groups of European descent or "whites" enjoy the privilege of being grouped together as a whole, thereby avoiding the social “minority” tag as well as one of Webster’s definitions of the word.


Cruse, Harold. Plural but Equal. New York: William Morrow, 1987.
Kennedy, Cohen, Bailey, Piehl. The Brief American Pageant, Vol. II –
Fifth Edition Since 1865. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company,

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