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From Minority to AALANA, What’s in a Name?

About three years ago, I stopped referring to people of African, Latino, Asian, and Native American descent as minorities. 

I dropped the word “minority” from my spoken vocabulary for some of the same reasons many African-Americans buried Negro in the 1960s and instead started calling themselves Black or Afro-American. (Ironically, more than 50,000 people wrote into the 2000 U.S. Census that they were Negroes.)

I think the number one reason why people use the term minorities is that it is easier and more concise for academics and reporters to say and write minorities than African-Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. It is one word as opposed to eight, and most people know whom they mean when they say it.

I have tended instead to use people of color. But even that is problematic because it presupposes that White is not a color. Or rather, more crudely, it infers the normalization or invisibility of Whiteness.

There are a growing number of academics using the term “underrepresented” without a qualifier in the place of “minorities.” I am one of them, but, as I sit here and think about that title, I find problems with it as well. Last I checked, Blacks are just as essentially “overrepresented” in crucial negative areas (prison, unhealthy, poverty rates) as they are “underrepresented” in those same positive areas (freedom, healthy, and wealth rates). It becomes a matter of looking at the cup half full, or half empty.

Furthermore, I think “underrepresented” can be problematic for the same reason I stopped using “minority.” I think, since we live in a society that has been born and bred on the racist ideas of particular racial groups being inferior to Whites, we should not utter names signifying this supposed inferiority. “Under” connotes inferiority. “Minor” connotes inferiority. If we do want to use this minority, then how about “minoritized” (to steal a term from Temple University doctoral student Weckea Lilly)?

Some may say it does not matter. As long as the user of the term does not consider the person to truly be “under” or “minor,” then what is the big deal? Well, I hope those who think it does not matter accept the justification African-Americans provide who call each other “Nigga.” They say too it does not matter. “Nigga” does not really mean “Nigger,” they say, just as sure as some would say “under” and “minor” do not actually connote inferior.

Another reason I do not use the term “minorities” is because these racial groups are in fact NOT in the minority. The majority of African-Americans live, work, travel with, socialize, worship, shop, and go to school in majority Black settings. Clearly, in a national sense, they are in the minority. But, in a global sense, non-Whites are again not in the minority. And now in the 21st century, you can make the case, and political economists have been doing this for years, that global dynamics are just as important, if not more, than national dynamics.

Learning it from diversity workers at my school, I now use the term AALANA (pronounced Uh-LAA-Nuh). When we pluralize it, we simply say AALANAs.

My college has a very successful “AALANA” mentorship program. Other colleges use the term as well. Rochester Institute of Technology has an AALANA Student Success Tiger Team. Brown University and Pace University have AALANA mentor programs. Schools also use the term “ALANA,” an acronym for Asian, Latino, African, and Native American. Vassar College has an “ALANA” center; Ithaca College, an ALANA scholarship; and Holy Cross College and Canisius College refer to its community as ALANA.

“The term [ALANA] is not degrading, inaccurate, or stereotypical,” Canisius students wrote in a statement to their trustees in 1978, one of the first movements for the change in terminology.  As for the term minority, they wrote, “we do not want to feel ‘minor.’”

Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta.

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