Is It Time for a Term to Replace ‘Minorities?’

May. 26, 2012 / By

By Leslie Berestein Rojas


Sometime in July 2010, non-Latino white babies in the United States ceased to be the majority of new births, with children born to black, Latino, Asian and other parents of color accounting for more than 50 percent of children younger than one last year.
And it begs the question: Do we keep calling these kids, and the racial and ethnic groups they belong to, “minorities?”

It’s a conversation that’s been brewing online since news of the historic demographic shift broke last week. One reader sent this tweet to me and another reporter who covered the story:

“As minority babies become majority, we can stop calling them ‘minority babies.’ Yes?”

Long before the latest census news, there’s been back-and-forth over whether “minority” is still even relevant as groups considered minorities have grows in size and influence. In a follow-up last week, Rinku Sen of the social advocacy magazine ColorLines, who arrived in the U.S. as a child from India, wrote about the term “people of color” as a better, more empowering fit:

Nearly 30 years ago, I learned to think of myself as a person of color, and that shift changed my view of myself and my relationship to the people around me.

It is time for the entire nation, and our media in particular, to make the same move.

In a more obscure post on a Latino marketing website, Hugo Balta, who described himself as Peruvian American, wrote:

….when is the media, the government, the country going to stop using the word “minority” when speaking about Latinos?

There are more than 50+ million Latinos in the United States. Many of them (so large in numbers) are the majority in several cities/neighborhoods in this country.

True, but it’s complicated. Latinos do comprise the majority population in several U.S. cities, including large ones like Miami, Florida and El Paso, Texas. And their children, combined with the children of other racial and ethnic groups, are a part of what is now a broad, multicultural majority that will one day constitute the working-age population of the United States.

But on their own, these different groups don’t have majority status, let alone majority representation. In both government and the workplace, for example, all of these groups – black, Latino, Asian, and others – remain minorities.

Last week, Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen spoke to KPCC’s Madeleine Brand about how and why “minorities” is still used:

It’s important to realize, first off, that words are never used according to their dictionary definition. They are used according to how other people use them. So I think the word “minority” has been used without any specific reference to numbers. It’s almost a euphemism for groups of any identity – it could be ethnic, it could be something else, for example women. People sometimes would refer to (women) as a minority before they realized, wait a minute, women are a majority.

So the word “minority” really did never function with reference to specific numbers. So I think you might hear it being used even after the dictionary would say it no longer applies.




Tags: ,