According to Wagley and Harris, a minority group meets five qualifications:
- Unequal treatment and less power
- Distinguishing physical or cultural traits
- Involuntary membership in the group
- Awareness of subordination
- High rate of in-group marriage
With these criteria, I would propose examining the following groups in America:
The Jewish Population
The American culture reflects its early Protestant Christian roots. Most (if not all) schools in America allow for a winter break that coincides with Christmas, and most recognize that spring break will fall around Easter. These breaks honor the two most significant holidays in Christian life. Most places of business or education do not reflect Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are important to the Jewish population. Nor do they reflect Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth. There are, therefore, definite defining cultural characteristics associated with Judaism, and there are far fewer Jewish people living in American than Christians. Most Orthodox Jews still require marriage only with other Orthodox Jews, and traditionally this has been the case within the greater Jewish population as well; parents have even sat shiva for children who married outside the faith, a custom typically observed when someone dies. There is, unfortunately, an anti-Semitic faction in America, making those who practice Judaism more likely to experience discrimination or even violence. Only about 2% of Americans claim Judaism as their religion, putting them in a position of subordination to a massively larger Christian culture.
People indigenous to the mainland of the United States also constitute a minority group. Membership is through birth; each tribe determines what percentage of ancestry is necessary to be designated as belonging to the tribe, with direct lineage necessary or 25-50% of total DNA being a requirement. Native Americans have a long and tragic history in America of unfair and unequal treatment, with most of their ancestral lands being claimed by the United States long ago. Even now, unemployment and addictions in Native populations is often staggering; some reservations have unemployment rates as high as 90 percent. This puts them in a definite position of subordination. There are still 154 different Native American languages spoken today, allowing for the cultural distinctions necessary for a minority designation. Reservations often have their own governmental procedures and recognition of religious customs of their ancestors as well, most of which are not known or understood by the general American population. The power of Native communities is limited greatly compared to what it once was when they existed as independent tribes.
Inuit and Alaskan Natives
About 16 percent of Alaska's residents are Alaskan Natives, making this group a fraction of the total population within the United States. They also have around 20 distinct languages, with some of these only spoken by a few elders in communities. Inuits and Natives have an income of roughly less than half of their white counterparts. The groups struggle with poverty, and fewer Native students graduate high school in Alaska than their white counterparts. Groups are struggling to maintain their culture, particularly regarding native languages. Some are beginning to press for voting materials to be made available in their native languages—such as Yup'ik, for example. Thus, being classified as an Inuit or an Alaskan Native is not made by choice but is designated based on ancestry, aligning with criteria for being in a minority group. The groups face a cultural conflict, struggling to preserve their languages and cultural ties to the land, as their hunting and fishing ancestors lived. Although they have less power, individuals are becoming more vocal in demanding recognition for those parts of their culture which have seemed to be quietly slipping away for years.