While I’ve thought of myself as a racial minority all my life, it is only in recent years that I’ve come to view the term “minority” negatively. I wasn’t sure why. I just knew that I didn’t like being referred to as a minority. I knew my reaction related to my growing racial justice awareness and understanding, but I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me. Then, I heard the term “minoritized people” for the first time on a PBS special about Zora Neale Hurston, the author and anthropologist.
So, what did the term really mean? I looked it up. Minoritized – “to make (a person or group) subordinate in status to a more dominant group and its members.” Now, it was clearer. Even before knowing the actual definition, I had had a feeling/a sense of the word. It was the concept of less than that was bothering me, not just the concept, but the process of being made into something that is less than something else.
Not surprising that this term would be used in a documentary about an anthropologist, someone studying culture, language, and human behavior. Remember the first time you heard, and thought about, the distinction between a slave and an enslaved person? Now, I’m beginning to understand why the term minority had become bothersome to me.
Societally, we seem to have associated – consciously or unconsciously – a host of characteristics with the term minority. Does it automatically mean poor, disadvantaged, uneducated – less than the standard/desired quality of life? Has it become a code word like “urban” or “inner city” or the now villainized “woke?”
Language is constantly evolving. Words that were once every day acceptable have become archaic, or downright unacceptable, rude, and pejorative.
Just another reminder that in racial justice work or any effort to right a societal wrong, language is important. Listen to how people describe themselves and their circumstances. Ask about language that is different from what you are accustomed to using. Adapt as language evolves. Words matter.
Note: I see myself as Black, African American, or as a member of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community, but not as a minority.