Let’s Stop Calling Ourselves Minorities

A version of this post was originally published in 2014 in The Root.com

minorities3It’s hard to believe, but it has already been four years (July 2012) when babies born of parents of color in the U.S. overtook births of white babies. What this means, according to demographers, is that by the year 2040, or thereabouts, there will be no majority race in the U.S. Blacks now make up about 13 percent of the population, while those hailing from the Spanish-speaking former New World colonies make up approximately 17 percent, and growing. Asians, both south and east, Middle-easterners and the cohort of mixed or “other” are also on the rise.

So why do we insist on using the word “minority” to speak of people of color, as a synonym for nonwhite? Growing up in the 70s and 80s, “minority” became an easy shorthand; an all-inclusive way to designate those who are not Caucasian. Since historically, this country has been overwhelmingly white (as much as 70 percent and more) it made its own kind of sense, and it was also easier than saying the mouthful “people of color,” or more daunting, calling each racial/ethnic group by name.

For some time now, I have sworn off using the term at all, and have tried to persuade others that the term is one whose time has passed. With the news of the nonwhite babies becoming a majority of births three years ago, I noticed such awkward constructions in the media as “majority minority.” Talk about oxymorons!

I believe that words have power to influence our thoughts and our thoughts influence our actions. If we cling to outdated and identity-sapping self-descripters, we forever regard ourselves as powerless.

So let’s take a look at how Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines minority: It reads:

: a number or amount that is less than half of a total;

: the group that is the smaller part of a larger group;

: a group of people who are different from the larger group in a country, area, etc., in some way (such as race or religion)

That last definition is the one we are dealing with here; but think of the other definitions: minority is something that is less than half of a total. It is the smaller part of a group.

As long as we use the term as a synonym for the myriad people of color, we are, I believe consigning those people to lesser status and a smaller role, in short to powerlessness.

When you hear the word majority, on the other hand, it denotes power. The majority vote wins in elections. The majority opinion is sometimes able to silence the less popular. Speaking of the majority race makes it seem like a behemoth; something as immovable and inevitable as a mountain range.

But racial power is not inevitable; it is the result of various historical forces. What will happen when our country becomes a nation of fractured ethnic and racial groups, with no one group in the majority? Doesn’t it make sense to begin to speak of racial groups using their proper name, i.e., black, white, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latino and Latina?

Recently, I read in the New York Times that Middle-Eastern immigrants would like a designated box on the census form. Currently, they must check white or other, and many of them do not feel white, nor are they treated as if they were. You have to wonder how the white bloc of citizens is over-counted due to quirks of the census like this. Same with Hispanics. They are also able to check a box declaring their race, black, white, or a combination. However, the same article noted that Hispanics, when given the option of choosing a race, overwhelmingly check white, despite the fact that few Hispanics from the New World have a typically Caucasian phenotype. Again, the white “majority” bloc is falsely expanded.

I was watching a movie in the Fast and Furious franchise the other day, noting how diverse the cast is. There are several blacks. A few whites, both men and women. An Asian man. Several Hispanics. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel face fight during one scene. My first thought, looking at the two men, is that I have seen the future, and the future will look a lot like them. More and more Americans are balking at the strictures of claiming one race at all: Diesel is reportedly black and white; Johnson is Polynesian and black. I am seeing more young people who belong to the nebulous “mixed-race group,” who see no reason to deny any part of their heritage.

In light of such trends, will there come a day when the census drops racial labeling altogether?

Maybe. But in the meantime, can a majority of us agree to stop using the belittling and power-robbing synonym “minority” for that blossoming, growing, expanding group of multi-racial and varied-race Americans?

 

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Pomp and Circumstance

Thoughtful Obama

 

By Hope E. Ferguson

Like many Americans, I was glued to my TV set for the pomp and pageantry of President Obama’s inauguration. I woke up Martin Luther King, Jr. day and flipped on CNN even before I did my daily devotions, something I never do.  I couldn’t wait to see if the president’s speech would match the fiery and soaring rhetoric of his groundbreaking introduction at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I couldn’t wait to imagine myself among the million on the Washington Mall, hoisting their little American flags. I had been to the mall for the rescheduled the MLK dedication in Oct. 2011, so I knew something about the palpable energy that would be there.

Then, there was the biggest question: What designer would the first lady be wearing?

As the president and first lady left the White House, two Marine guards, in their starched dress uniforms, stood on either side of the door, still as statues. “I wonder what they’re thinking,” I asked my fiancé. “Probably just about doing their jobs,” he replied.

I judged the president’s speech okay. There was no soaring rhetoric, but I liked how he spoke of the amazing diversity of our nation: a truth that hit home this fall when he was re-elected by a majority of people of color and just 38 percent of the white vote. I loved the imagery that poet Richard Blanco evoked with his metaphor of the sun rolling across our multi-hued, multi-faceted nation, and the near-final image of the moon shining on our windows. I loved the patriotic songs sung by James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé, who abandoned her skimpy garb for a dignified-looking black lace-armed gown.

I relished watching the parades from the different states – the president’s Hawaiian alma mater, Punahou School, trailing their volcano, the precision of the military bands, the playfulness of the dance troupe from Nevada, the rhythm of the Isiserettes of Iowa, whose irrepressible beat had the first lady and daughters shaking their shoulders.

I loved how the president turned one last time, to savor the sight of nearly a million American flags flickering in the wind.

Then leaders of both parties sat down to an American luncheon of steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce, bison, and Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey made with New York apples.

As many a commentator said, it was a day that gave one goose pimples, and only the most hardened partisan could fail to be moved. This is how we do it, they intoned; we transfer power peacefully, every four to eight years, no bloody coups, no uprisings in the streets. Whether we voted for him or not, we honor the office of the Presidency, and the orderly march of time from the first to the 57th  inauguration.

For one cold winter sunny day, coincidentally, on MLK’s birthday, we join together as one nation under God. We openly invoke his blessings. We rejoice in our diversity. We break bread together. We stand on the mountaintop.

For this bright shining moment we are Americans joined by ideals, not by blood. Never mind that tomorrow we will be back to the fights over the debt ceiling, gun control, same-sex marriage. Never mind that the name-calling will begin again, that the heels will be dug in again. That things will grow ugly again.

Human beings, made in the imago dei, long for the sense of unity and purpose evoked at the Presidential Inauguration, where a young, white likely-Republican male dances with a Black Democratic first lady. Where the liberal Commander-in Chief  is cheered by a conservative U.S. military.

We long for the beauty of unity.

Maybe that’s because we really long for the One who will take government upon his shoulders. The One who not only can negotiate for peace in the Middle East, but who is the Prince of Peace. The One for whom every tribe, tongue and nation can exalt and praise with abandon, knowing that he will not prove to have feet of clay. We long, indeed, for the one whose government will have no end.

And the human pageantry we witnessed last week, no matter how beautiful, orderly and well-staged, is only a shadow of those things that God has placed in our hearts; for he has set eternity in the hearts of men and women.

And by the way, the dress our statuesque first lady wore?

A Greek column in red by immigrant Chinese-American designer Jason Wu.