Minority group

group of people by practices, race, religion, ethnicity, or other characteristics who are fewer in numbers than the main groups of those classifications

A minority group, by its original definition, refers to a group of people whose practices, race, religion, ethnicity, or other characteristics are lesser in numbers than the main groups of those classifications. However in present-day sociology, a minority group refers to a category of people who experience relative disadvantage as compared to members of a dominant social group. Minority group membership is typically based on differences in observable characteristics or practices, such as: ethnicity (ethnic minority), race (racial minority), religion (religious minority), sexual orientation (sexual minority), or disability.


  • I come more and more to the conclusion that one must take the side of the minority which is always the more intelligent one.
  • In republics, the great danger is, that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the minority.
    • James Madison, Speech at the Virginia Convention (1829). The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political Thought of James Madison, p. 512, ed. Marvin Meyers, Indianapolis (1973)
  • A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.
  • The so-called minorities are majorities but since less is more the more should feel that they are less... Less is more is a fabrication of the rich to make the poor think that by having less goodies they can have more babies. But less food for those babies. That is what they mean when they say less is more. Less for you and more for me.
  • Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion—and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion … while Truth again reverts to a new minority.
  • True, since the Minority is necessarily weaker (physically, that is to say quantitatively) than the Majority, its power can only derive from its Authority (minority regimes are necessarily 'authoritarian'). But this Authority never derives from the fact that the Minority is a Minority. The 'justification' ('propaganda') is always of the kind: "even though we are only a minority, we . . ." The Authority that is endorsed by a Minority 'justifies' itself or explains itself by 'quality' and not by quantity. (Even the 'snob' claims to belong to the elite and not to the minority.)
  • Shall we then judge a country by the majority, or by the minority? By the minority, surely.
  • 'Two peoples never meet,' the American anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits once wrote, 'but they mingle their blood.' Mingling, however, is only one of a range of options when two diverse human populations meet. The minority group may remain distinct for breeding purposes but become integrated into the majority group in all or some other respects (language, religious belief, dress, lifestyle). Alternatively, interbreeding can go on, at least for a time, but one or both of the two groups may nevertheless preserve or even adopt distinct cultural or ethnic identities. Here is an important distinction. Whereas 'race' is a matter of inherited physical characteristics, transmitted from parents to children in DNA, 'ethnicity' is a combination of language, custom and ritual, inculcated in the home, the school and the temple. It is perfectly possible for a genetically intermixed population to split into two or more biologically indistinguishable but culturally differentiated ethnic groups. The process may be voluntary, but it may also be based on coercion - notably where major changes of religious belief are concerned. One or both groups may even opt for residential and other forms of segregation; the majority may insist that the minority lives in a clearly delineated space, or the minority may choose to do so for its own reasons. The two groups may cordially ignore one another, or there may be friction, perhaps leading to civil strife or one-sided massacres. The groups may fight one another or one group may submit to expulsion by the other. Genocide is the extreme case, in which one group attempts to annihilate the other.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. xlvii
  • Why, if minorities face such risks by not assimilating, do ethnic identities persist, even in cases where no biological distinction exists? There are, to be sure, fewer ethnic groups in the world today than there were a century ago; witness the decline in the number of living languages. Yet despite the best efforts of the global market and the nation state to impose cultural uniformity, many minority cultures have proved remarkably resilient. Indeed, persecution has sometimes tended to strengthen the self-consciousness of the persecuted. Passing on an inherited culture may simply be gratifying in its own right; we enjoy hearing our children singing the songs our parents taught us.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. xlvii-xlviii
  • A more functional interpretation is that ethnic groups can provide valuable networks of trust in nascent markets. The obvious cost of such networks is, of course, that their very success may arouse the antagonism of other ethnic groups. Some 'market-dominant minorities' are especially vulnerable to discrimination and even expropriation; their tightly knit communities are economically strong but politically weak. While this may be true of the Chinese diaspora in parts of Asia today, it also has applicability to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire before the First World War or the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe before the Second. However, because exceptions suggest themselves (the Scots were unquestionably a 'market-dominant minority' throughout the British Empire, but aroused minimal hostility), two qualifications need to be added. The first is that the economic dominance of a vulnerable minority may matter less than its political lack of dominance. It is not only wealthy minorities that are persecuted; by no means all the European Jews were rich, and the Sinti and Roma were among Europe's poorest people when the Nazis condemned them to annihilation. The crucial factor may have been their lack of formal and informal political representation. The second qualification is that, if an ethnic group is to be deprived of its rights, property or existence, it cannot be too well armed. Where there are two ethnic groups, both of which have weapons, civil war is more likely than genocide.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. xlviii
  • [Popular government] rests in the common sense, and the self-restraint of the American people. It rests in the knowledge of the majority that it must keep within the checks of the law and the Constitution if the Government is to be preserved. And it must rest in the view that the minority that it is much more important that the government should be sustained than that the minority should have for the time being control of or a voice in the government. It rests in the knowledge of the majority that the rights of the minority and in the individuals of that minority are exactly as sacred as the rights in the individuals of the majority.
    • William Howard Taft, Address at City Hall Park, Fresno, California, at a Union Religious Service (10 October 1909) Presidential Addresses and State Papers of William Howard Taft, March 4, 1909, to March 4, 1910 (1910)
  • The moment a mere numerical superiority by either states or voters in this country proceeds to ignore the needs and desires of the minority, and for their own selfish purpose or advancement, hamper or oppress that minority, or debar them in any way from equal privileges and equal rights—that moment will mark the failure of our constitutional system.
  • In making the great experiment of governing people by consent rather than by coercion, it is not sufficient that the party in power should have a majority. It is just as necessary that the party in power should never outrage the minority.
    • Walter Lippmann, “The Indispensable Opposition”, Atlantic Monthly (1939)
  • What characterizes a member of a minority group is that he is forced to see himself as both exceptional and insignificant, marvelous and awful, good and evil.
    • Norman Mailer, “A Speech at Berkeley on Vietnam Day,” Cannibals and Christians (1966)
  • A dissenting minority feels free only when it can impose its will on the majority: what it abominates most is the dissent of the majority.
    • Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition, Aph. 40 (1973)
  • Experience tells us that sometimes, when minorities insist on their rights, they ultimately prevail.
    • Kekewich, J., Young v. South African, &c. Syndicate (1896), L. R. 2 C. D. [1896], p. 278; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 166.
  • It is impossible that bodies of men should always be brought to think alike: there is often a degree of coercion, and the majority is governed by the minority, and vice versa, according to the strength of opinions, tempers, prejudices, and even interests.
    • Eyre, C.J., Grindley v. Barker (1798), 2 Bos. & Pull. 238; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 166-167.
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