“The Global Majority” = shibboleth.
When a colleague on the Faculty Senate at the University of Puget Sound recently tried to insert “the global majority” into the minutes, she claimed that she was doing so only to vary the usage in the minutes. I suppose she felt that “under-served minorities” or similar expressions were repetitive. Like school marms who instructed me to vary my terms for the sake of variety lest my reader become numbed, this colleague purported to be introducing a stylish new construction simply to avoid repetition. Perhaps. Perhaps she was as well brandishing a new catch-phrase.
We are all susceptible to catchy new phrases, so we should take care to avoid shibboleths. My colleague, an alleged post-modernist with a marked taste for fashionable dogmatics and political casuistry, latched on to “the global majority” to vary discourse, I have no doubt. She also aimed to deploy verbiage that signaled her identification with a contingent. That is what I mean by “shibboleth:” expressions that signify membership or participation in some cadre [whatever else they may do to vary documents or to keep conversation lively].
If you would be more critical and thoughtful than my fellow senator — and how could you help bur be more mindful and examining that she? — please analyze the catch-phrase that has caught the imagination of my colleague.
First, the definite article gives away the shallowness of the catch-phrase. One constructs this or that global majority from a myriad of majorities one might select. THE global majority you select you thereby single out from the groupings > 50% of the population of the Earth. By speaking of THE global majority, then, you permit or entice the unwary — like my colleague, perhaps — to miss the selectivity involved.
Second. any majority you select you create with reference to one or more minorities. In the instance of “the global majority,” you get caught up in the phrase to invidiously comment on some minorities or minority who have more power than numbers. Inveighing against elites and embracing downtrodden masses is a popular, populist tactic that deftly elides many or all of the differences among your chosen majority even as you treat the elite you have created as undifferentiated.
Third, “global” makes your “them bad, us good” glibness seem cosmopolitan and intellectual.
For the foregoing three reasons [if no others], “the global majority” signals the savvy reader or listener that wordplay is substituting for thought. If you doubt that, read recent entries at http://mediadiversified.org/2014/01/23/ethnic-minority-no-global-majority/. I maintain that the missteps of each entry at that URL are not merely mistakes to which we each and all are liable but also foolishness to which shibboleths drive us.
Jude Wanga goes first:
“There are [sic] a great deal of acronyms and labels used by society to address and refer to people who are not white. There are reasons to be hesitant to use all and any of these labels in particular instances.
” ‘Ethnic minority’ is a term usually used to mean “not white”, but there are also white ethnicities that it is applied to, such as traveller communities. This betrays the wilful [sic] ignorance of the media or other users in applying inaccurate blanket terms. The updated version, ‘minority ethnic,’ is also problematic. As a homogenous group, ‘minority ethnics’ are not a minority at all, they are the largest demographic in the world in terms of population. It possibly reflects the domination of the white media that these terms are used despite their logical failings.
“Similarly BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) and BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) are problematic. They single out some groups but lead to an othering of other groups, such as Latinos. Technically, white people can fall under both these terms, such as ‘minority ethnic’ (which is ambiguous), or White Latino, leading to further confusion. It also elevates certain minority groups above others by placing their groups in the acronym, and excluding others.
“This leaves ‘people of colour’ as the sole collective term for people who do not benefit from white supremacy, without placing whiteness as the default as the term ‘non-white’ does. People of colour is not without its downsides, with some people of mixed racial heritage feeling excluded by the term. It also focuses on skin colour, which doesn’t address other ethnic discriminations. However, it cannot be denied that skin colour is important, and so of all the available terms, this is the one that I feel is least problematic, and the one I identify with the most.”
Alpha. Among the acronyms or labels for people whom I do not count as white, I favor “people whom I choose not to count or to group as white.” Whatever “society” does, I can take responsibility for sets that I create. Skip the acronyms and the labels and articulate what you are doing.
Beta. “There are reasons to be hesitant to use all and any of these labels in particular instances.” Although context matters, if one is classing or grouping, one may always say that such is what one is doing. Perhaps one might skip the initials and the slogans and state what one is doing.
Gamma. Never under-estimate the ignorance of and in society, including of and in mass mediated communicators. I never presume that such ignorance is willed or willful, any more than I assume that those who philosophize about monikers or abbreviations are willfully asserting audience research that they have not and never could do.
Delta. Alternatives to “people of colour” abound if one gets out of the business of shorthand, slogans, and shibboleths. Ms. Wanga might elect not to play any rigged game and instead to say what she means. “The Global Majority” and similar jibber-jabber does not specify Ms. Wanga’s thinking or meaning but may hide the degree to which my senatorial colleague is not thinking and is not interested in conveying meaning, only membership.
Point Delta above likewise should counsel Lee Pinkerton, the second commenter, to avoid acronyms and shorthand altogether. It does not.
“B.M.E. is the current politically correct term to describe us Black folks, and anyone who isn’t white and English. Personally I don’t like the term as you’re reducing all these diverse races and cultures down to three letters that sounds like a disease like CJD, or B.S.E.
“Also the term ‘minority’ suggests weakness and powerlessness, when in fact non-white people are the global majority. If we can see ourselves that way perhaps we would feel less like victims. I prefer the term Black. It is a political term (hence the use of capital ‘B’) intended to unify that mixed group that white people throughout hundreds of years of slavery, imperialism, and colonialism have tried to divide and conquer.
“However some feel its disrespectful to describe a race as a colour. Chinese people do not describe themselves as ‘yellow’, nor Native Americans as ‘Redskins’. Some argue we should identify by our country of origin. So African-Caribbean? But some Black people argue that we shouldn’t celebrate our Caribbean ancestry as it was just a historical accident that we happened to end up there, rather than America or Brazil or some other slave port.
“There are those that argue that everyone in the African diaspora (including the Caribbean descendents of slaves) should describe themselves as African. But this too is problematic. How can I put myself in the same category as someone who was born and raised on the continent when I have a European name and can speak no African language and have no direct knowledge of any indigenous culture, and am not even sure what part of Africa my ancestors were taken from?
“Also African separates us from our Asian brothers and sisters in the struggle.
“So the ideal term is one that is all inclusive. It should not cling to any artificially imposed political boundary, or any other category that might be seen as divisive, as what we are trying to create here is unity.
“People of Colour works, but that also encourages another three letter acronym (POC).
“How about Melanated Peoples? – that includes Africa, the Caribbean and Asia and is certainly inclusive and a unifying concept, that puts us firmly in the global majority.”
Mr. Pinkerton might watch the movie “WarGames,” in which a computer learns that for Tic-Tac-Toe as for Global Thermonuclear War, the best move is not to play the game. Mr. Pinkerton, skip the acronyms and the labels and say what you are mean.
Joy Goh Mah, the third commenter, would profit as well from getting out of a political con game.
“Out of all the terms I could use as a signifier of my racial identity, there is none that I embrace as wholeheartedly as the term ‘woman (or person) of colour’.
“Very often though, I see newspapers and academic journals using “ethnic minorities” or “BAME” (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic). The problem is, any terminology that uses the word ‘minority’ seems rather amusing, considering the fact that people of colour are the global majority. Of course, many would argue that these terms only apply in a British or North American context, where white people make up the majority population. Yet, this takes a very simplistic view of race relations, suggesting that discrimination only happens because we are a minority, and erases the fact that, even in countries where people of colour are the majority, white supremacy and its effects are still very much present.
“Interestingly, there was a time when I rejected the use of a blanket term to describe non-white people, seeing it as an implication of our being a homogenous group, defined by whiteness, or rather, our lack of it. However, through a discussion with Samantha Asumadu (founder of Media Diversified) some time ago, I came to appreciate the term ‘people of colour‘ as a mark of solidarity, an acknowledgement of shared oppression, and a call for unity against white supremacy. I am a woman of colour, and I stand proudly with my sisters and brothers of colour as we fight to end racial oppression.”
Could she make her addiction to shibboleth clearer? She and the prior two spokespersons at http://mediadiversified.org/2014/01/23/ethnic-minority-no-global-majority/ revel in pseudo-philosophical blarney when a straightforward solution would be to stop labeling and other signifiers.” In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell counseled writers to avoid the abstract in favor of the concrete lest writers indulge in shibboleth, sloganeering, and other silliness. As a general matter, Mr. Orwell cannot quite be correct. Writers must abstract to think. As a starting point, however, Mr. Orwell seems to me correct. Start from descriptions as clear and concrete as you can make them, then categorize or collectivize only when necessary.