A right is an inherent civil liberation that accrues to a person for the mere fact of being a human being. They are inalienable and apply equally in a universalistic manner to all. Freedoms on the other hand are the preconditions for a dignified existence where people live independently without the state violating on the freedoms. They establish rules of relations between the state and the individual and among individuals.

Minority groups are sub-groups within a culture which are distinguishable from the dominant group in power by reason of differences in physical features, language, customs, as cultural patterns (including any one or combination of these factors). Such sub-groups are regarded (or regard themselves) as inherently different from the dominant power group; for this reason they withdraw from full participation in the life of the culture.

They refer to a group of people who appear to be inconsequential to most people for distinguishing themselves from the other people. The minority group may be ethnic, religious, linguistic and indigenous peoples. They include statistical or numerical size, power distribution (social or political), homogeneous physical or cultural traits, and differential treatment or status.


There is a wide consensus among sociologists that the term should not be regarded as a statistical concept. However there exists different schools of thoughts who try to define minorities.

v  The classical definition is that of L. Wirth who said, “We may define a minority as a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination. Minority status carries with it the exclusion from full participation in the life of the society.”

v  While Wirth placed the minority group in opposition to the majority group, A.M and C.B Rose, rejecting any purely numerical definition, give special emphasis to this opposition in their definition: “The mere fact of being generally hated and being hated because of religious, racial or national background is what defines a minority group.”

v  Unlike Wirth and Rose, R.A Schermeshorn gives a definition of minority group which does not require a conscious application of differential treatment of the minority group on the part of the dominant or minority group. Schermerhorn says, “Minorities are subgroups within a culture which are distinguished from the dominant by reason of differences in physiognomy, language, customs or cultural patterns(including any combination of these factors. Such sub-groups are regarded as inherently different and “Not belonging” to the dominant group; for this reason they are consciously or unconsciously excluded from full participation in the life of the culture.”


A minority is not necessarily a numerical minority, it may include any group that is subnormal with respect to a dominant group in terms of social status, education, employment, wealth and political power. Other minority groups include people with disabilities, “economic minorities”  that is, the working poor or unemployed, “age minorities” those who are younger or older than a typical working age and sexual minorities.

Examples of minority groups in Kenya are the Maasais, Ogieks, Sangwer, Ilchamus, Endrois and the El Molo.

Minorities are of two types, ethnic and racial.


An ethnic minority is a group which differs in some cultural respect from the dominant group. Some authorities use the term “nationality” in preference to “ethnic group.”

Examples are: The Irish of Boston, the Norwegians of Brooklyn, and the Greeks of New Haven

This is because the aforementioned are not distinguishable biologically from the minority of the population of those cities; but in so far as they are set apart it is by their language, religion, habits, or traditions.

Since religion is one phase of a people’s culture, groups of this type may be classified with ethnic minorities. Thus Hindus are a minority in Pakistan, Muslims in India, Protestants in Italy, and Roman Catholics in the United States. The Amish, a sect devoted to farming as a way of life and to the utmost simplicity in material goods, migrated from Europe to the United States generations ago.

Religious groups are frequently the objects of differential and discriminatory treatment. The Christians were a minority in ancient Rome. Baptists were expelled from colonial Massachusetts, Mormons had to free to Utah, and Quakers and Huguenots (French Protestants) have often found themselves playing the role of scapegoats.


The group is distinguishable only by its hereditary, physical characteristics, and these form the basis for such cohesion as the group possesses. Among the racial minorities are the Cape Colored of South Africa and the Anglo-Indians of India.

Certain groups however, such as the American Indians and the Japanese-Americans, have the characteristic of both racial and ethnic groups.

Many other groups in a society present problems similar to those of racial and ethnic groups. Women, the aged, intellectuals, teen-agers, and conscientious objectors are often the victims of differential treatment, are excluded from full social participation, and sometimes manifest the resentments and grievances common to minorities. Students of intergroup relations, however, usually exclude such groups from their discussions, and limit themselves to racial and ethnic groups.


a)      Political changes

Minorities are sometimes acquired by a nation in the process of its growth and expansion, or by the shifting of political boundaries.

In 1848, following the Mexican War, the United States annexed vast territories in the south west, along with the thousands of Spanish colonials who lived there, the offspring of the conquistadors and Mexican Indians who had settled that frontiers in the 16th century. Their descendants today, known as Spanish–Americans, or Hispanics, constitute the about half of the population of New Mexico and significant minorities in neighboring states, and are distinctly an underprivileged group.

This process of acquiring minority groups has been more characteristic of European nations than of the United States. Many of the racial and ethnic minorities of the U.S.S.R are a consequence of three centuries of conquest and expansion on the past of the [ex-] Russian Empire. The Hapsburg Empire, with its numerous minorities, was largely built by dynastic marriages and succession rights.

b)     Initial causes

Minority problems are treated as though they were a phenomenon only of modern times, having their origin in the rise of capitalism or in the expansion of Europe. No doubt they did reach a new magnitude when, in the 15th century, the people of Europe began to overflow their boundaries and set out to explore, convert, conquer, and colonize every corner of the earth.

Nevertheless, there are reasons for believing that pre-historic, preliterate peoples roamed widely over the earth and came into contact and conflict with strangers who differed from themselves both racially culturally. From archeology, folklore, linguistics, human biology, and cultural anthropology comes abundant evidence to prove that from earliest times there have been wars and invasions, groups conquered and dominated others, there was cultural interchange, biological interbreeding, prejudice, differential treatment, and all the other phenomena which today we associate with inter-group relations.

c)      Population movements

The cause of inter-group relations varies and the direction it takes depends to no small degree upon whether the new comers role is that of the conqueror, colonizer, refugee, immigrant, or slave.

The various types of population movements which give rise to problems of minority-majority relations may be classified as follows:

                                                                                                        i.            Invasion

This term often includes any hostile or war-like encroachment upon the domain of another, but we restrict it to those cases where a simple but virile people leave its home and overrun the territory of a more highly developed society. It is a mass movement, involving a large portion if not the whole, of the tribe. A particular destination is lacking, and there is certain irrationality in the process.

Examples of invasions which produced problems of minority-majority group relations would include the Gothic migration from Asia into the Roman Empire, the Aztec invasion of Mexico, the movement of the Hun and Magyar into Europe and that the Mongol into China.

                                                                                                      ii.            Conquest

This involves the expansion of a highly developed society over a simpler people. It occurs when a well- developed state sends out its armies into the territory of less advanced peoples, and imposes its political system upon them. The movement of people into the conquered territory may be insignificant, and in this respect movement resulting from conquest differs from other types of population movements; but the effects of conquest upon the subjected peoples may be profound and lasting.

                                                                                                    iii.            Colonization

This type of movement occurs when a well-developed society sends out bodies of its citizens to settle in certain specified localities. Such a transplanted fragment remains closely tied to its mother country politically, economically, and culturally. A distinction is made between the farm type and the plantation type. The former arises when climatic conditions are similar to those of the mother country, rendering acclimatization easy, and permitting the migration of whole families, and ultimately resulting in the colonists transferring their primary allegiance from their old home to the new one. Frequently, labour has to be imported. Many crucial race problems have arisen under such conditions.

                                                                                                     iv.            Immigration

This type of population movement involves the entrance into an alien country of persons intending to take post in the life of that country and to make it their permanent residence. It is largely a phenomenon of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a peaceful movement, between countries which are on friendly terms, or at least not hostile, one of which is old and densely populated while the other is new and less thickly populated. Unlike those movements described above, it is primarily an individual undertaking rather than the organized movement of an integrated group, although governments do control, regulate, direct, and encourage or discourage the process.

                                                                                                       v.            Forced migration

This occurs when groups of people are compelled against their will to leave their native land and go elsewhere, either with or without a specific destination.

The Moors were expelled from Spain in 1609, and other Jews have been forced to leave one country after another throughout their history. Huguenots were driven from France in the 17th century; Gypsies were expelled from England by Henry VIII; and the Acadians, heroes of Longfellow’s Evangeline, were uprooted and scattered throughout the English colonies of North America. The Negro’s presence in the New World is a result of forced migration, and his relations with other races which he encountered have always been affected by the circumstances under which the contacts occurred. For centuries the relationship was one of master and slave, consequences of which are still felt, long after the institution has been abolished. The 20th century has witnessed the forced migration of millions of people, displaced persons, and refugees, who reluctantly left their homes, or were expelled because of their race, nationality, or political opinions.

                                                                                                     vi.            Internal migration

Minority problems are profoundly affected by migrations which occur within the boundaries of a political entity. There have been times, of course, when there was very little movement of people within the borders of a state.

Under serfdom, for instance, one did not have the right to move; and even with the disappearance of serfdom, the individual was still not endowed with independence of action, for he was a member of a community which regulated many aspects of his life. Nowadays, however, internal migrations are going on continually in all civilized countries. Such migrations have been conscious features of American society, profoundly affecting its history, institutions, and culture, and especially the relations between racial and ethnic groups. There were the migrations of the Indians, both before and after the arrival of the Europeans. Then there was the westward march of the American people, which played no small part in the assimilation of the diverse ethnic groups which had come to these shores. More recently, we have witnessed the drift of population from country to city, significant interstate migrations, seasonal migrations of labour, and most significant for minority group relations, the great migration of Negroes from the rural south to the industrial cities of the North.

Posted on March 21, 2013, in HUMAN RIGHTS AND CONFLICTS. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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