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Minority

Widening The Definition, Minority Status And The Individual, Bibliography

The term minority group and its opposite, majority group, have been widely used both among social scientists and the general public in recent decades. In social scientific (and often popular) use of these terms, they do not usually refer per se to a numerical minority or majority. Rather, the social-scientific meaning of a minority group is a group that is assigned an inferior status in society, one that enjoys less than its proportionate share of scarce resources. Frequently, minority group members are discriminated against, and in some cases they are severely and systematically exploited for economic gain by the majority group, as illustrated in U.S. history by enslavement of African-Americans and by the taking of land from American Indians and from Mexicans who settled in what became the U.S. Southwest.

Usually, a minority group is defined on the basis of a relatively permanent and unchanging status and on the basis of being different—often visibly—from the majority group. This definition includes minorities based on ascribed statuses such as race, ethnicity, and gender and other statuses that are difficult or impossible to change, such as sexual orientation and disability. It also includes groups with common identities that are deeply held and relatively unlikely to change, most commonly religious or linguistic groups. When minority status is assigned on the basis of race or ethnicity, it often involves groups that have been conquered or colonized in the past, as is the case, in the United States, of African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans, and American Indians. In these instances, the degree of subordination experienced by the groups tends to be particularly intense. It is notable, for example, that the present and historic status of the four aforementioned groups is significantly more disadvantaged than that of most immigrant groups in the United States. For all types of minority groups, it is typically true that (1) the group is different in some way that is regarded as socially significant from those who hold the dominant influence in society, and (2) on the basis of that difference the group is assigned to a subordinate or disadvantaged status.

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