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The power of the majority over minority in social environments

Further, they are relatively lacking in power and hence are subjected to certain exclusions, discriminations, and other differential treatment.

The important elements in this definition are a set of attitudes—those of group identification from within the group and those of prejudice from without—and a set of behaviors—those of self-segregation from within the group and those of discrimination and exclusion from without. At least two defects make this simple definition useless. People of different races, nationalities, religions, or languages can live among one another for generations, amalgamating and assimilating or not doing so, without differentiating themselves.

Like everything else that is social, minority groups must be socially defined as minority groups, which entails a set of attitudes and behaviors.

Second, relative numbers in and out of the group have not been found to be definitionally important. Sociologically speaking, it makes no sense to say that Negroes are not a minority group in those few counties of Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina where they constitute a numerical majority of the population, but that they are a minority group in the rest of the South. Likewise, even though the Bantus constitute around 80 per cent of the population of South Africasociologists have defined them as a minority group because they occupy a subordinate position.

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Origins of national minorities. In some cases the minority groups ceased altogether to occupy their original territories and were dispersed throughout the nation of which they were now subjects.

More often they stayed in the same place but in a subordinate position, since the dominant political and economic institutions were now run mainly for the benefit of the larger national group. The latter usually enacted laws to regulate the political existence of the minorities; for instance, they might have to send their own community leaders to the national assembly instead of being able to vote individually for candidates in a national election.

Even the areas in which they could live or the occupations they could pursue might be determined by law; at the least, the dominant nationality regarded them with suspicion, as the Czechs were regarded under the Austro—Hungarian Empire.

A minority need not be a traditional group with a long-standing group identification.

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It can arise as a result of changing social definitions in a process of economic or political differentiation. The increasing saliency of a certain occupation, for example, can set apart the people who practice that occupation, if occupations are more or less hereditary in the society, and cause them to be considered a minority group.

Language or religious variations in a society can be considered unimportant for thousands of years, but a series of political events can so sharpen the religious or linguistic distinctions the power of the majority over minority in social environments the followers of one variation who happen to be without much power in the society are thereafter considered a minority. These processes can be illustrated by developments in India.

The Marwaris, allegedly originating in Rajasthan, were until the late eighteenth century merely another occupational caste among the thousands of castes that make up India. They were moneylenders and small merchants, who were of no greater importance in the social structure than any other occupational caste until the rise of capitalism gave a great new importance to their economic functions. The new economic salience of the hereditary occupation created a salience for the people who practiced the occupation and made them into a despised, feared, and envied minority.

The process was aided by the increased geographic dispersion of the group caused by a broader demand for their occupational services. Language differentiation based on geographic dispersal has been going on in India since time immemorial within two great language stocks, the Dravidian of southern India and the Indo-Aryan of northern India. The differentiation of Dravidian into Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada and several dozen lesser languages was not marked by definite historical events any more than was the differentiation of Latin into Italian, French, Spanish, and Rumanian.

The modern development of political boundaries, which occurred at first under the British for administrative convenience and, after 1948, under the independent government of India, made language a salient basis of differentiation because the political boundaries were drawn as closely as possible to language boundary lines.

Thus, it has been largely within the past few decades that language has become one of the most distinctive marks of a minority in India, and the basis of considerable group conflict. Moreover, there is no single nationality group in the United States that either forms a numerical majority or enjoys a de facto political dominance; this state of affairs has existed at least since 1830.

The crucial factor would appear to be the degree to which any group has been allowed to become assimilated into the mainstream of American life and to enjoy the same opportunities as the majority of Americans. Most immigrant nationality groups suffered some discrimination during their early years in the country but were later assimilated. Racial groups are distinguished from each other by their possession of certain physical features inherited as the result of endogamy over a long period.

Few races, however, are biologically pure, nor do most people use strictly biological criteria in deciding that a person belongs to one racial group rather than another. The principal nationality groups in the United States came originally from Europe and, in spite of some admixture from other races, can plausibly regard themselves as having a common racial ancestry.

7.1 The Many Varieties of Conformity

It is not race, therefore, but culture—and the history of each culture—that provides the most salient distinctions between them. Immigrants of the second and third generations generally adopt English as their major or only language and assimilate their values and manners—at least in the more socially visible aspects of their behavior—to those of the majority.

The major exceptions to this are those groups—such as the Scandinavians of Wisconsin and Minnesota—that have remained in isolated rural areas, having little contact with the dominant American culture and therefore being under no pressure to assimilate themselves. Their status as national minorities is not the result of discrimination and prejudice on the part of the majority but of deliberate choice or sheer lack of opportunity.

It cannot be said, however, that they surfer from their minority status, since they enjoy the full privileges of American citizenship and are not compelled to maintain their traditional way of life or to inhabit any particular territory. Finally, a new type of nationality minority is being created by immigration of victims of political persecution; the best example is the Cubans, con centrated mainly in south Florida and New York City, who plan to return to their home country after an expected future political revolution there.

Some groups in the United States speak a language other than English, although they are not recent immigrants; indeed, they have continued to speak their own language over many generations.

The outstanding example of such a minority is the Spanish-speaking people who live in the sparsely populated rural areas of New Mexico and southern Colorado. Their position is similar to that of some European national minorities, since most of their ancestors were originally Mexican citizens whose territories were incorporated into the United States after the Mexican War of 1846—1848.

They have been able to maintain a distinctive way of life because they are both isolated and poor; this same isolation tends to protect them from the discriminatory attitudes of the dominant, English-speaking population, who have not, on the whole, found it necessary to impose any legal or political disabilities upon them.

Discrimination on grounds of religion, although expressly forbidden by the constitution, has long been practiced in the United States with varying severity against a large number of groups.

Chief among these groups are the Jews, the Muslims, Christians of the Eastern Orthodox church, and various Protestant and Orthodox sects. Roman Catholics, too, although their total number in the United States, according to some estimates, was more than forty million in 1960, share some of the disadvantages of minority-group status, though to a decreasing extent.

One special feature of membership in a religious minority is that it can be acquired voluntarily, regardless of racial or national origin, though most members, of course, are following the religion of their parents. The position of the Jews is unlike the power of the majority over minority in social environments of other religious minorities because there are more Jews than there are active believers in the Jewish religion.

Indeed, it is likely that in the United States believers and nonbelievers are about equal in number, although most of the latter would undoubtedly regard themselves as Jews nonetheless. This raises the question of whether there is any single objective basis for classifying them as Jews.

One criterion can be ruled out completely: It therefore seems best to describe them, for summary purposes, as recent descendants of persons known to have followed the Jewish faith. Minorities in other parts of the world Outside the United States, racial minorities are found predominantly where race is considered important in the culture. This is mainly in Africa, where whites, Negroes, and immigrants from India variously consider themselves or each other as minorities.

To some extent, native Indians are considered minorities in parts of South America. But in a country like India, where race is not considered important, racial differences are not the basis for the formation of minority groups religion and language are.

Nationality differences continue to provide the source of minorities throughout Europe including the Soviet Unionwhich extends into Asia. Some of these are in the process of disappearing as distinctive minorities because of assimilation, such as the Scots, Irish, and Welsh in the British Isles.

Some are of very ancient origin, and their minority status has not changed appreciably in centuries, such as the Basques in Spain and the Greeks in Turkey, who also use a language different from that of the majority in their respective countries. Other minorities are being newly created by virtue of recent migrations for economic reasons, such as the Italian minority in Sweden. Sometimes political refugees form a new nationality minority, such as the Poles in Great Britain and the Baits in Sweden.

Some retain their status as minorities through language differences or through international conflict, such as the German-speaking, Austrian-backed Tyrolese in the Italian province of Alto Adige. Mainly outside Europe, some nationality minorities seems to maintain their distinction through politcal differences with the majority, such as the Karens of Burma. Language is often closely associated with nationality, as we have seen.

But there are some linguistic minorities which seem to owe their origin to differences of social class rather than of nationality; notable examples are the Swedish-speaking Finns and the German-speaking people of eastern Europe. Perhaps the contemporary nation with the most salient language minorities is India.

When the states of India were divided mainly along linguistic boundaries, only the 14 languages spoken by the largest numbers of people could be assigned a state.

As the states quickly assumed political importance and language became socially identified as the main basis for their differentiation, those who spoke languages other than the dominant one of their state became minorities. They also included those who spoke one of the major languages but were not residing in the state where their language was dominant.

As language became a national issue in independent India, the language minorities usually became the power of the majority over minority in social environments objects of prejudice and discrimination.

Religious differences are still a prime source of minorities, although in Europe perhaps not as much as in past centuries. Perhaps the most destructive conflict of the post- World War II period has been the one between Muslims and Hindus in India, and a most bitter—though small-scale—conflict has been that between the Muslims and Jews in Palestine. Protestant minorities have been subject to a good deal of discrimination in Catholic Spain and parts of South America. Catholics feel themselves to be a minority in several countries where Protestants form a majority, although the prejudice or discrimination directed at them is not very strong, as it once was.

The Jews, who have been the most persecuted minority in modern times, are still the subject of considerable prejudice and discrimination in several countries of Europe, particularly in the Soviet bloc.


Religious minorities also include the Christians in Muslim countries, pagans and atheists in Christian countries, the Hutterites and Doukhobors in Canada, the minor religious groups of the Indian subcontinent, and several others. That is, a minority will be assigned to lower-ranking occupations or to lower-compensated positions within each occupation; it will be prevented from exercising the full political privileges held by majority citizens; it will not be given equal status with the majority in the application of law or justice; or it will be partially or completely excluded from both the formal and the informal associations found among the majority.

Not infrequently, the minority also voluntarily excludes itself partially or completely from participation in these areas of life, partly as a means of maintaining traditional cultural differences.

Accompanying the objective subordination and segregation of the minorities are usually to be found some subjective attitudes of mutual hostility, although these may sometimes be publicly denied and camouflaged. Majority-minority relations invariably involve some conflict, although this may take varied forms and operate on different levels. There the power of the majority over minority in social environments to be three types of attitudes of hostility or prejudice with which the dominant group regards the minority and with which the minority may attempt to counter the dominant group.

The complex etiologies of each of these, which differ somewhat from society to society, cannot be analyzed here. The first is an attitude in which power is the main element: While the achievement of ascendancy in terms of one or more of these scarce values may be brutal including enslavement of the minorityit is seldom personal, nor does it, except accidentally, result in the death of a minority person. The second attitude is ideological: The third attitude is racist: The minority may have the same attitude toward the dominant group, but since it lacks power, this has few or no behavioral consequences.

Different social systems of conflict accompany these three different attitudes of hostility. For example, the caste system is generally associated only with the racist attitude; this system prohibits mobility across group lines and equal-status relationships and requires endogamy, systematized displays of inferiority by the minority, and occupational division of labor. Where power seems to be the main ingredient in the conflict between dominant and minority groups, there is one form or another of exploitation: Where the ideological element seems to be the main factor in the hostility of the dominant group toward the minority, the majority group generally offers the minority the alternatives of conversion or extermination.

Ideological conflict is at once the most brutal and the most generous toward the minority, depending on whether or not the minority will accede completely to the beliefs of the dominant group.

In the contemporary world, the religious minorities of India and Palestine offer examples of ideological conflict, as do the political minorities of some communist countries. Power conflict is most evident in dominant—minority relations in northern and central Africa and in South America. Racism is today most frequent in South Africa and in the United States, although it is apparently still strong in Germany and in eastern Europe.

Role of minorities in social change. From the preceding discussion, it will readily be understood that the different roles of minorities in the society will affect their impact on general social change.

In general, the existence of minorities in a society offers a constant stimulus and a constant irritant that for several reasons provoke social change. Minorities are often carriers of a culture different from that of the dominant group, and the contact and clash of cultures have long been hypothesized as sources of social change. Even when minorities carry no traditional alien culture, their partial exclusion from the general society serves as a basis for the development of some deviant culture.