Woman. Asian American. Millennial.
These are just a few of my identities. They intertwine with all the others, weaving the fabric of the flesh I live in and the skin I present to the world.
Skin that is white.
As a result, I’ve benefited and will continue to benefit from the privileges of a white-passing woman in America. The color of my skin has not slammed doors in my face or threatened my life. It has never barred entry to white spaces. Because I can tick the box for “Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander” on applications, some might even argue the whiteness of my skin has brought me preferential (albeit tokenized) treatment.
But it is exactly because of the whiteness of my mixed race, Korean-American skin that you might listen and hear what needs to be said. We live in a society that deems whiteness to be all things virtuous, aspirational, and superior. But given that the voices of Black, indigenous, people of color are muted and discounted unless amplified through a megaphone held by white hands, I beg to differ.
This inequality is not about numbers. It’s about power and dominance.
Though a group of people may be “in the minority” based on numbers, they should not be labeled “a minority” or “the minority.”
My instructor in my anti-racism course, Monique Melton, made this distinction clear to me. I was responding to one of her questions and began with, “For Asians and other minorities…”
She stopped me there. “I don’t like the word ‘minority’ because that’s incorrect. Call it what it is: marginalized groups of people.”
And my mind was blown. It was the first, and still only, time I was given permission to reject the minority label. It dawned on me that I had internalized the hierarchy of white supremacy so deeply that I couldn’t even see myself for what I was until she called me out on it.
Since then I’ve been hyperaware of each time I want to use the “minority” label for myself or anyone else. I’m more attuned to hearing it in news reporting and it sticks out of written text like it’s been highlighted in neon yellow. I still need to fully unpack what it means to float uncomfortably between the worlds of whiteness and anything other than white, but I’m already changing the language and labels I use.
Will you join me in taking a critical look at how you unintentionally and unconsciously reinforce white supremacy every time you call someone a minority?
In our racialized society, declaring one group to be the minority group automatically shifts additional power and status to the majority group. The normalized group.
The normalized group is the one benefitting from policies, systems, and structures. Although it usually represents the numerical majority, that’s not always the case. Consider, for example, the benefits for married couples. Although they may not be the numerical majority once you account for divorcees, widows and widowers, happily partnered-but-not-married, and unpartnered people, they receive certain benefits in the eyes of the law and tax code simply because of their marital status.
Compartmentalizing someone into a single “minority” group also ignores and diminishes the significance of their other intersecting identities. Civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw describes why she developed the term “intersectionality” in her TED talk. She likened it to traffic colliding with a person standing in the intersection in two roads. Prior to this, there was no way to visualize or describe the way the societal structures (in this case, roads) were designed to harm the people standing in the places where they converge.
Until Crenshaw published her 1989 paper, there was no prism for the law and the rest of us to frame these overlapping and nuanced identities. We could see someone within the frame of their gender. Their race. Their socioeconomic status. But there was little precedent for recognizing how dehumanizing it was to be female, Black, and poor because the current policies were designed to address issues within only one of those frames.
As she said in her TED talk:
“Communications experts tell us when facts do not fit with the available frames, people have a difficult time incorporating new facts into their way of thinking about a problem.”
“Without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all the members of a target group, many will fall through the cracks of our movement, left to suffer in virtual isolation.”
Racism, sexism, homophobia, fatphobia, classism, and more can all overlap and compound one another. Generalizing all of them into a “minority” category to refer to the way they are not aligned with the white, cisgender, heterosexual, educated, affluent, young, abled, male bodies at the top of the pyramid is problematic no matter how politically correct you want to seem.
The blinders we’re accustomed to putting on won’t make our efforts to address inequality in any of these areas more impactful. I would argue it instead negates them. It will only magnify how your privilege allows you to turn a blind eye to what you don’t want to see and focus on what keeps you comfortable and complicit.
From now on, I’ll say what I mean. These are not minority groups, these are marginalized groups. Decentered and cast to the fringes while the experiences, beliefs, and narratives of the reigning majority group are centered and reinforced to maintain the status quo.
Think of it like disclosing your preferred pronouns, even if they are normalized and widely accepted without questioning. It can alert others to your efforts to be as inclusive as possible. The best part: it takes virtually zero effort on your part to do it.
Saying “marginalized groups of people” to convey an understanding that the systems and policies contribute to the inequality we see, not the amount of melanin in one’s skin or one’s country of origin, is doing the bare minimum. Don’t expect a round of applause from me if or when you make this change — and don’t think it’s enough to prove you’re a “good white person” either.
As Felicia C. Sullivan wrote in her recent story, “We shouldn’t be celebrated and lauded for reminding others who look like us that those who don’t look like us should be treated as humans.”
To continue using the term “minority” is to continue to diminish the depth and range of humanity in all its complex iterations.
Despite its prevalence in the common vernacular, it is possible to eliminate or reduce how often it’s used. This New York Times piece managed to do it. Can we also strive to simply say what we mean? Can we stop tip-toeing around the phrases we think are politically correct and use whatever labels are, in fact, correct? It’s clumsy. It’s uncomfortable. It takes a little more effort but it’s necessary if we are truly going to walk the walk of addressing race and racial issues in America and beyond.
I choose to challenge this “minority” label and stop denying power to anyone whose identity places them in the numerical minority. I will not strip them of their unique identities, heritage, and cultures. I will make a conscious effort to dredge up my misplaced beliefs around race and racism and confront them daily.
And I urge you to do the same. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Aboriginal, People of Color have historically been categorized together as non-white. Less significant. Less worthy.
We are not minor. Stop calling us minorities.