Just when you thought everyone had already thought of all the words polite people didn't say, we'll offer up another one: "minority," as in, "That's a minority that's growing in influence across America."

The use of the term minority is especially vexing to Ken Wibecan of Peru, a black man of some distinction around here. He is a career newspaper and magazine editor who has worked for some big and powerful publishers.

He -- and others of his race, he insists -- are insulted by the term minority, as it implies a less-than-equal participant in our democracy, if it doesn't come out and say it outright. If you're calling someone a minority, you're specifying that he is not a person of equal standing with the majority, which, in America, happens to be the Caucasian race.

Often, in national stories, races other than Causcasian are referred to as minorities. A phenomenon will be discussed, and, as an addendum, the story will note, "This is particularly true among minorities." Sometimes, "the poor and minorities" will be lumped together as afflicted groups.

How are we supposed to unify around our similarities if we keep emphasizing our differences, especially when we tag groups as minorities, thus underscoring their underdog status -- that they have less standing than the majority?

But how do you signify that you are talking about other than the Caucasian population, in Wibecan's view?

By specifying the group. Is it black Americans? Hispanic Americans? Asian Americans? (Actually, Wibecan has a problem with "Asian Americans," as that general category doesn't go far enough in noting which nationalities are being discussed. Instead, he suggests, name the nationality.)

That makes perfect sense, although it's not hard to envision times when that's not possible, or at least it would be very difficult. When the government refers to "minorities," news outlets can't know precisely whom is being referred to, for example.

And, while we at the Press-Republican can be attentive to this question, we can't do anything about wire services, which provide our state, national and international stories. The Associated Press, for example, has no qualms about using the term minority. If we were to edit it in each case, which would be a daunting job under the best of circumstances, we would sometimes have to know what to use as a substitute. We would not always know.

Some people will read this and dismiss it as another arm-twister for political correctness. Our response to that is, why would anyone insist on using language intentionally, arbitrarily, that is known to hurt one group of people? "Minority" is less expressive than the groups comprising it, so why not be more specific and communicate more fully, while avoiding a demeaning form of expression?

This may become a topic for J.W. Wiley's new, catching-on blog on the Press-Republican Web site. And perhaps nothing will ever change because of Ken Wibecan's irritation with the word minority. But now you know it is an issue. In terms of racial identifiers, minority may not get the endorsement of the majority.



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