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April 14, 2002 - 'Minority' and 'AHANA' - 2002-04-12

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: Has the word "minority" outgrown its usefulness?

RS: Minority means less than half. In the United States, members of non-European racial and ethnic groups are generally referred to as minorities.

AA: Americans of European descent are still in the majority, but other groups are growing. So much so that, in California, the last census found that Hispanics, blacks and Asians were fifty-one percent of the state's population. California, America's most populous state, was proclaimed its first "majority minority state."

RS: Similar changes have also taken place in the largest cities across the country, with whites either in the minority or close to it. So what does the future hold for the word "minority"? Reporter Phillip Martin in Boston examines that question.

PHILLIP MARTIN: In December, Boston’s City Council voted unanimously to delete the term "minority" from official documents. The sponsor of the resolution, Councilor Charles Yancey – who is African-American— says the term is insulting and stigmatizes people like himself.

YANCY: "I do believe that to continue to label people as minorities establishes an almost caste-like system in the United States, where certain people will be permanently condemned to a status of second class citizenship."

PM: But that argument failed to sway Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who later vetoed the resolution. A spokesperson says that the Mayor was concerned that dropping the word "minority" from official city documents could undermine programs, such as the Office of Minority Business, which depend on that very term to get special funding.

That same concern was voiced by some in San Diego in March 1999, when that city’s deputy mayor proposed eliminating “minority” from official records. Two years later he succeeded, and the term was removed with little resistance or repercussions.

But the campaign in San Diego, and now the one in Boston, have nevertheless prompted some people to ask: Of all the terms on which to focus attention, why this one? And, once you get rid of the term minority, what do you use in its place?


On the campus of Boston College, some think they’ve found answers to those questions.

DONALD BROWN: "In advance of coming, word is sent out to entering freshman that there is a new term in the lexicon of Boston College. We don’t use the term minority. We use AHANA."

PM: Donald Brown directs the Office of AHANA Student Programs, which focuses on retention and graduation of non-white students. The term AHANA has been in use at the school since 1979.

DONALD BROWN: "It means African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American."

PM: The name change was the result of a campaign by Puerto Rican and black students, who believed that they were being demeaned by the term minority.

Donald Brown asserts that since the name alteration, retention rates for students of color at BC increased dramatically.

Though the correlation between retention and the altered language is not proven, he says that most students have embraced the AHANA label as strongly as some have rejected being called minorities.


Sitting at a Filipino Society table, Scott Agulo says for him the choice of terms is a “no-brainer.”

SCOTT AGULO: "I prefer the term AHANA here at Boston College. I see the word minority as a pejorative. And the word AHANA to be more neutral."

PM: But Cindy Uh, a Korean American from Florida, says the word AHANA took some getting used to.

CINDY UH: "When I first came to Boston College I didn’t think much of the AHANA acronym. It was kind of placed upon me without choice, and as I began becoming more involved on campus I realized that the term is really beneficial to the students. Instead of using the word minority that's another way of saying your Asian, you’re African American and you guys are all united."

PM: It’s a belief shared by students at other colleges and universities as well. At least thirty, including the University of Alaska at Anchorage, Fairfield College in Connecticut and Boston University, have all adopted the term AHANA in place of minority.


PM: Here at Boston City Hall a sign on a door still reads “The Office of Minority Business.” Councilor Mickey Roach – a former high-ranking police official who dealt with racial disorder in Boston -- says he will work with Mayor Menino to draft a compromise. Mister Roach, who is white, says he is convinced that the term minority has outlived its usefulness.

MICKEY ROACH: "The term in of itself is not highly charged emotionally as other words are, but in a way I think we’ve come to a point where we just describe people physically the way they are: tall, short, the color of skin whatever it is and that could be one way to go forward."

PM: And if that doesn't work, says Mister Roach, he may join with Councilor Yancey and others in an attempt to override the mayor’s veto -- an action that requires the votes of nine of the 13 councilors. But most observers believe only a minority of them will vote to continue debate on this discordant issue."

AA: Phillip Martin reporting from Boston, Massachusetts.

RS: We leave you with a programming note -- Wordmaster is joining the new program “Coast to Coast" on Thursday.

AA: But you'll hear a repeat on Sunday, at this slightly earlier time.

RS: We'll post all the details on our Web site: With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.