Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


as identity / narrative / culture (USA)

thanks to

“Minority” in everyday American speech, government, and multicultural studies loosely describes any ethnic or gender group that is either non-white, non-male, or non-heterosexual. "Minority" rarely describes lower socio-economic classes, though the categories of class and race or ethnicity often overlap in casual use.


This instructor's multicultural courses impose more specific and quantifiable meanings, but, as with all language, meanings shift with contexts and evolve with changing times.


Three categories—historical; physical or cosmetic; and socioeconomic or class behaviors or values—identify American minorities:

particular ethnic groups' historical experience, esp. involuntary contact, exploitation, and deprivation instead of opportunity and freedom (as with immigrants).


distinguishing physical markers including the color code, dress codes, speech differences, etc.


socioeconomic or class behaviors or values that the dominant culture regards as distasteful or counter-productive but which may affirm minority identity if only as resistance or not selling out to the culture that has historically oppressed and despised you.


These three aspects are explained & detailed further down, but for American Minority Literature & American Immigrant Literature, the following table provides ready prompts for its objective & presentation requirements for identifying minority identity or voice. (Students may choose any prompts from any column.)



historical experience

physical or visual markers

socioeconomic or class behaviors or values
(i.e., these may be class-determined more than ethnic or race-based)

involuntary contact with dominant culture (conquest, captivity, kidnapping, forced sexual contact): contrast with immigrant narrative

"Voiceless & choiceless" in speaking for themselves and rights over self and property (in contrast to choice involved in immigrant narrative or privilege of dominant culture)

Exploitation, isolation and disadvantage, instead of immigrants' opportunity, freedom (mobility), and advantage.

Resistance to assimilation to historically oppressive dominant culture (in contrast to immigrant identity, which voluntarily joins dominant culture social contract).

"Resistance" may be partial, leading to mixed or hybrid identities, or syncretism (>)

"Resistance" may also rise from dominant culture

Occasional legal or political relief but continuing institutional or cultural exclusion.

race / ethnicity

“The Color Code”

dress codes

body styles, facial features

voice prompts
(dialects, accents, vocal styles)

marked / unmarked

washed / unwashed; clean / unclean

naming practices

syncretism (blending of religious traditions)
(esp. religious symbols)

For immigrants who intermarry and assimilate,
such differences gradually diminish;

for minorities who remain separate or resist assimilation,
differences may persist as points of pride or identity.

traditional culture v. modern culture

extended, non-nuclear, or improvised family, often dysfunctional or broken

("Red Families v. Blue Families")


traditional gender roles,
esp. male privilege and womanly submission;  

early child-bearing, "age at first birth" or "age of family formation"

short childhoods, early maturation, need to work for family
(contrast dominant culture)


escapist behaviors like drugs, alcohol, gambling


intersectionality of race / ethnicity, class, gender


spoken culture v. written culture


exclusion / objectification (self-other)


mistrust, resistance, or cynicism toward dominant-culture authorities,
especially law-enforcement


absence of successful models
in business, law, education, etc.


receipt of government aid, e.g. welfare, food stamps, community food banks, etc.


association with crime or excessive police force
(respect for dominant-culture authority?)




















For specific histories of racial / ethnic groups described as enduring minorities:



American Indians as minority (+- immigrant)


Mexican Americans / New World immigrants as minority or immigrant

African Americans as minority (+- immigrant)


Why are minority and multicultural issues so persistent and powerful in American culture and identity?


History vs. ideals: The Declaration of Independence proclaims that "all men are created equal" with "inalienable rights" of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," but the same document and the U.S. Constitution identify American Indians and African Americans as outside this status, reflecting the USA's original sins of taking American Indian land and kidnapping Africans as slave labor.


Social structures: The Declaration's proclamation of "equality" and the American Dream of socio-economic mobility imply that the USA is a classless society, in contrast to Old-World European societies that were largely structured by class.


In America, race and gender assume the structuring identities formerly assumed by class. "Everybody knows their place." (In fact, class continues to be, and is increasing as, a factor in American society. European societies now have more social mobility than American society.)

Other ethnic groups that may trend to minority status (sometimes called "downward assimilation," in which people gravitate to the most dangerous aspects of American culture like cynicism, despair, escapism, get-rich-quick schemes, crime, and other "symptoms" listed above.)


Scotch-Irish or White heartland Americans

left behind economically by globalization and de-industrialization

aversion to government and public education and / or higher education

disdain for outsiders or other cultures leading to social isolation (including lack of continuing migration or "rootedness" in contrast to "rootlessness" of trans-national immigrants)

maintenance of traditional gender roles and extended families despite nuclear-family breakdown through divorce, lower marriage rates, early child-bearing ("age at first birth").