Saturday, 2 February 2008

The Minorities Myth

One of my father’s favourite proverbs was “Enough ants can bring down an elephant”. He was keen to point out that unfavourable odds against even the biggest opponent could be turned by lining up more support. He wanted me never to give up as a lost cause what in fact was the just cause. In a way it is fitting that the mammoth animal has come to symbolize the Party of plutocratic righteousness in America, because more than ever we need to consider the fate of those modern day ants otherwise known as ‘minorities’.

Countless people who have to labour to make ends meet day in, day out, have for decades been parceled out into distinct minority packages. The poor who are despised for drawing on benefits which could otherwise boost the tax breaks of the rich. The workers whose share of their organisations’ earnings shrink as their bosses pay themselves ever larger bonuses. The non-white ethnic groups who are splintered into smaller and smaller sub-groups with their own ‘culturally unique’ problems. The women struggling to bring up children on their own. The young men whose inability to be responsible figures of their families leads them to drop out of society. The people whose disabilities prevent them from earning enough to support themselves. Their concerns are labeled as the interests of minorities, registered as fringe issues on the margins of society.

Whenever political representatives are to be elected, the two main contestants – whether they are competing for their parties’ nomination, or on behalf of their party for the vacant position in question – inevitably fight on the ‘mainstream’ issues, leaving the third candidate to reach out to the minorities, the poor, the unorganized, because those are territories destined to be covered by the losers in such campaigns.

If you want to win, you want to appeal to the majority underpinning the establishment – Middle England, Middle America – that substantial core which is meant to be where the hearts and minds of any given country is located. But strip away the rhetoric and what are these appeals really directed at? They are directed not at a majority at all, but at a tiny minority – the rich and powerful. These plutocrats amass power to themselves and will facilitate the elections – through campaign donations, strategic endorsements, media influence, etc. – of those keenest to strengthen their powerbase further, or at least unlikely to rock their hierarchical boat.

The truth is that the multiple ‘minorities’ disadvantaged by their lack of socio-economic power constitute the real majority. This perverse situation is increasingly taking hold across the world. Indeed according to the UN’s World Institute for Development Economics Research, a minority comprising merely 2% of adults in the world possess more than half of all household wealth, while the poorer half of the world's population own less than 1% of it.

We must not let the myth of minorities go on anymore. All ants – underpaid, undercut, discriminated against, marginalised, deprived, despised – should stand together and face up to the corporate elephants trampling on our hopes for a fairer society. Throw away those ‘minorities’ labels and embrace a deeper solidarity. Don’t let them stamp their feet and frighten everyone into running for cover. Show them that when the civic majority rally together to call for a more just distribution of power, they will have to listen. Whatever single-issue campaigns you want to fight, forget not the greater cause – it shall not be lost, for there’s definitely enough of us to make a difference.

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