Welcome, Horseback Riders!
|Horseback riders. English translation of the Khmer phrase referring to French people during the colonial era who rode on horses throughout Cambodia. Today Cambodians use the term to refer to any foreigner or “outsider” different from themselves.|
1 Who Says We’re All the Same?
“Isn’t it great to look around this large hall and realize that we’re all the same?”
A white, middle-aged, male leader of a USA-based, international association made this statement recently at a plenary session to open the association’s annual convention.
Those sitting in the audience included members from over 60 countries, old people, youth, medical doctors, high school graduates, visually challenged members, two veterans in wheelchairs, women, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Lutherans, atheists, and vegetarians. Booths at the back of the auditorium housed ten interpreters simultaneously interpreting the speaker’s English into ten other languages.
The speaker meant well. He was emphasizing unity, comraderie in an association. He was commending what the association members had in common – all were publicly committed to serving others around the globe.
But despite a common goal, should the speaker really have assumed that people of such diverse identities were “all the same”? Where was the commitment to intentionally leverage the group’s diversity? Wasn’t the speaker missing an opportunity to harness the perspectives of those different from the majority?
It has been common to refer to such different people as minorities. In its entry on multiculturalism, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, “When we say ‘minority groups’ we tend to refer to disadvantaged groups such as African Americans, Native Americans, South Americans, certain other ethnic groups, women, gays and lesbians, the disabled, seniors, and so on. Multiculturalism, however, is a broader term, referring to any subgroup, including privileged whites amidst the whole.[i]
- Is it time to re-evaluate the M words?
Some multiculturalists today – and journalists and scholars – are making the case that we should do away with the term minority. In fact, it’s worth pausing to wrestle with the meaning of all the “M” words – Minority, Majority, and as we have been discussing, Multiculturalism.
What happens, for instance, when, as in South Africa historically, the “minority” Whites were the powerful and the “majority” Blacks were the powerless? Or what happens when the minority becomes the majority?
Case in point. The U.S. Census reports that in the next 40 years, 90% of the population growth in the USA will come from “people of color.” Half of the workforce will be African American, Native American, Asian, Latino, and other groups. Nearly half of the workforce will be women. Workers over 55 will make up only 20% of the workforce.
Should we search, then, for a new term for Minority? In the USA, minorities have been customarily (politically) associated with the Disadvantaged. Hence, should we use that term? Or should we say the Powerless, the Unequal, the Minoritized, the Marginalized? (Marginalized applies especially well to women, who in numbers are actually the majority, but who have been marginalized like a minority.) Or what about the Aliens, the Outsiders, the Outgroupers, the Underserved, the Underappreciated?
For the purposes of this discussion on multiculturalism, we are arbitrarily choosing to use the term Horseback Riders, which is the term Cambodians use in Khmer when referring to “foreigners,” or to any strangers or subgroups different from traditional Cambodians.
What’s the point of all this? Conscientious association leaders today are searching for ways to attract and keep new members from an increasingly multicultural society. Our intent here and in follow-up blogs, is to provide practical insights and suggestions on how to welcome “horseback riders” into our circle, how to make them feel at home, and indeed, how we can all become more fulfilled and stronger as individuals and as associations when we have them in our midst.
3 Join the conversation!
- What’s your view of the term “minority” as discussed in the blog? Do we need a new term? Why or why not? If so, can you suggest one?
- As used here, multiculturalism is intended to include all kinds of people – Caucasians, English, Germans, Irish, African Americans, Asians, Latinos, men and women, seniors, youth, the physically challenged, people of different educational backgrounds, people of a different sexual orientation. How well represented are these groups in your association? Do you feel initiatives toward multiculturalism and multicultural understanding are needed in your association? Why or why not?
- What group do you personally belong to? Do you feel association members show bias or discrimination against you in any way? Or do you feel people validate you (respect you) for who you are and what you have to contribute? What are some examples?
4 Check these out
BARNGA: A Simulation Game on Cultural Clashes. (1990). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
The Migrant Trail, a free online activity where players live in the shoes of migrants or border patrol agents.
Next blog: Why bother with Multiculturalism?
[i] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved September 19, 2015 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/multiculturalism