Every country in the world has ethnic, linguistic, racial, or religious minorities within its population. The majority of civil, political, social, and cultural violations are founded on discrimination, exclusion, and racism, owing to an individual’s race, nationality, religion, age, sex, gender, or ethnic background. The United Nations has been grappling with the challenges facing minority groups for over five six decades. In 1948, the General Assembly made a declaration that the organization could not ignore the plight of minorities, and the World Summit Outcome held in 2005 reaffirmed the importance of protecting the rights of minorities as one of the key roles of the UN (Fraga, 2018). Several laws have been passed to promote the welfare of marginalized groups, and social measures have been implemented by various organizations to elevate minority groups.
Racial, Ethnic, Religious, and Gender Minority Groups
Sociologist Louis Wirth described a minority group as a set of people who are treated inequitably and differently from others in the society, owing to their physical or cultural traits. These individuals perceive themselves as objectives of communal discrimination. In sociology, the term minority can be applied interchangeably with subordinate group to mean a group of people that lacks power in society (Alexander et al., 2016). A minority group is usually discriminated against by the majority group, which comprises individuals with the most power in any given social setting. Subordinate groups are not necessarily characterized numerically, but by the absence of power (Alexander et al., 2016). In certain cases, a larger group can be described as the minority because of the lack of power.
A racial subordinate group refers to a set of people who are treated unequally because of their physical characteristics such as the color of their skin and hair texture. For example, African Americans are a racial subordinate group. An ethnic minority is a group of people who are treated differently because of their unique cultural identification and expression, which are defined by their practices, beliefs, and values (Fraga, 2018). Examples include Italian Americans, Jewish, and Irish. Religious minority refers to a set of individuals who lack power in society because their beliefs are held by a small number of people (Alexander et al., 2016). For instance, in the US, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are minorities. A gender minority refers to a group of people who are treated unequally because of their sexual characteristics (Alexander et al., 2016). For instance, transsexuals and intersex people are gender minorities. People are subordinated based on these factors because of their lack of power as influence is wielded by the majority.
Factors Associated with Subordination
Three major factors that are used to subordinate groups of people include sexual orientation, disability status, and age. Sexual minority groups comprise individuals who are involved in same-sex sexual behaviors, leading to their prejudiced treatment in society. This includes gay, transgender, bisexual, queer, and lesbian people. They belong to the LGBT+ group that represents both a social and numerical minority. Disabled people also comprise a subordinate group because their differences in physical and psychological functioning subject them to discriminatory treatment. Disabled people are disadvantaged in society and they are at a disproportionately high risk of being subjected to various hardships. Age is also a factor used in defining minority groups because the aged are treated differently from other people in society. They suffer from discrimination, deprivation, and prejudice, and they have no sense of group identity. Their low productivity and declining psychological functioning are examples of reasons why they are treated with prejudice in society.
Legal and Social Elevation Steps
Since the 1990s, the international community has been promoting the enactment of laws, policies, and social programs to increase advocacy for the protection of minority groups’ rights. For instance, the United Nations has played a significant role in the promotion of the rights of ethnic, linguistic, national, and ethnic minorities. Regardless of the concerted efforts of governments and international organizations, discrimination and marginalization of minorities continue to be global challenges. Statistics show that members of these groups are the most afflicted by poverty, racism, violence, and unemployment. Several laws have been enacted and organizations have been founded to advocate for the protection of the rights of minority groups. Several policies that fight against discrimination in employment and education have also been implemented.
Two key laws that were passed to help minority groups include the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964, and it outlawed discrimination against anyone based on their race, gender, sex, national origin, or color (Fraga, 2018). Over the years, this law has helped religious, sex and gender, ethnic, and racial minority groups, primarily by protecting their right to equal employment opportunities and the enjoyment of social amenities. Title IV of the Act protects outlaws the practice of any form of discrimination in public schools based on the aforementioned factors (Fraga, 2018). In that regard, minority groups can attend any elementary, secondary, public college, and university without any prejudice because of their race, ethnic background, sex, or religion. The law has helped these groups immensely. For instance, in Brown v. Board of Education case heard in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, thus upholding the rights of minority groups (Fraga, 2018). Reforms were made to the education system, even though it took a while. Minority groups can access any public amenity freely and pursue opportunities to advance their lives like members of majority groups.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to protect the rights of people living with disabilities from discrimination in public places and in government-related activities at all levels. Government statistics show that about 43 million Americans live with a disability, either physical or mental (Fraga, 2018). The law defines disability as any disorder that affects one or several body systems, including reproductive, cardiovascular, neurological, digestive, mucoskeletal, respiratory, endocrine, and hemic and lymphatic systems among others. In many instances, members of this minority group are subjected to prejudiced treatment in public places by being denied access to services, jobs, programs and activities. Since its enactment, the law has helped many people with disabilities by making public places more accessible through the construction of aids such as wheelchair ramps and tactile warning surfaces (Fraga, 2018). Moreover, it levels the playing field for people with disabilities by allowing them to enjoy equal opportunities as people without disabilities in employment and education.
Two organizations that fight for the rights of subordinate groups include the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Minority Rights Group International (MRG). The UNHCR was founded in 1950 to help the thousands of Europeans who had been displaced due to the effects of the Second World War (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, n.d.). The majority of refugees belong to minority groups, and are therefore protected by the organization. UNHCR helps indigenous people and members of religious, ethnic, national, and linguistic minorities to preserve their cultures and identity. In addition, it helps them by working with governments, local and international actors to ensure that they participate in the making of decisions that affect their lives (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, n.d.). The MRG is an international human rights organization that was founded in 1969 for the sole purpose of protecting the rights of minorities around the globe (Minority Rights Group International, n.d.). It focuses on ethnic, linguistic, religious, and national subordinate groups, including indigenous people. The organization works in collaboration with about 150 partners located in 50 different countries around the world (Minority Rights Group International, n.d.). They support minorities and indigenous people through their programs, training and education, and advocacy activities. They fight for them to have equal opportunities in education and employment, and to participate actively in politics.
In society, people are subordinated based on several factors, including sex, race, ethnic background, age, gender, and religion. A minority group is defined as a set of people who are subjected to prejudice and inequitable treatment because of their unique physical, cultural, sexual, or religious traits. They are discriminated because they lack power over their lives, which is held by the majority groups. Several laws have been passed and many organizations have been formed to protect the rights of these groups. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the American Disabilities Act of 1990 protect the rights of minority groups. On the other hand, the UNHCR and the MRG advocate for the rights of minorities, including indigenous people. There is a need for more stringent and elaborate laws as these are insufficient in dealing with the widespread subordination of members of minority groups in society.
Alexander, J. C., Thompson, K., & Edles, L. D. (2016). Contemporary introduction to sociology: Culture and society in transition. Routledge.
Fraga, B. L. (2018). The turnout gap: Race, ethnicity, and political inequality in a diversifying America. Cambridge University Press.
Minority Rights Group International. (n.d.). Web.
United Nations High Commission for Refugees. (n.d.). National, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous people. Web.