Majority or Minority: What Do They Mean?
In preparation for our next topic, Race & Image of the Divine, we'll be offering posts around this theme on The Feed. Today, we hear from Jern-lyn Chong about her experience as a minority in Malaysia and the United States. She asks the question, what does it mean to truly be a minority?
By Jern-lyn Chong
As a Chinese-Malaysian, I’ve always considered myself a minority. While Malaysia is made up predominantly of Malays, Chinese, and Indians, the Malays are the majority in terms of population and government.
But the feeling of being a minority did not really strike me until I left home—to a new place, new people, new culture. I chose a small Christian liberal arts college in Arkansas that had approximately 1500 undergraduate students. During the orientation for international students, when we were asked to sit according to our countries, less than ten of us represented “Asia” because there weren’t enough students to form groups based on individual countries.
I never knew what it was really like to feel disconnected - like a minority, like a small voice in a noisy crowd
I remember times of great discomfort and homesickness during my first two years at college, because I never knew what it was really like to feel disconnected—like a minority, like a small voice in a noisy crowd. In Malaysia, I may be part of the 27% of Chinese-Malaysians, but in reality, I lived comfortably within my inner circle of family and friends. Being in the U.S. for three years now, I’ve come to realize that I’ve always assumed the role of the majority back home.
I have to admit that most—albeit not all—of my friends back home are Chinese-Malaysians. Our culture’s construction of race has created such a huge divide that I never felt the need to seek out racial diversity. Growing up, I never found myself in social circles where there was great diversity. Despite being a racial minority in my country, there existed a racial majority in the circles I was in for most of my life.
Recently, a friend shared a story of her Chinese mother who spent a couple of years in Vietnam and, to this day, cannot speak any Vietnamese. This reminds me of last Christmas when I visited the Chinatown in San Francisco, California, and there were people there who could hardly speak any English despite living in the U.S.
Truth is, it is easy to create our little “majority group” wherever we are. It is natural for people to draw themselves to other people who are like them.
Are we willing to humbly step out of our comfort zones to experience a worldview different from our own?
Do we ever find ourselves in situations where we represent the “majority” be it in social, religious, or vocational settings? Do we unintentionally convey superiority by easily dismissing other voices? Do we give enough thought to different ways of doing things and different perspectives held by “minorities”? Are we willing to humbly step out of our comfort zones to experience a worldview different from our own?
In the end, demographics may put us into the minority group on a national level, but on a day-to-day level, we often place ourselves in the majority when we interact with people who are similar to us—racially, socially, and intellectually.
By reading this article, I hope you will be encouraged to rethink the definition of what it means to be a minority or a majority.
Let us seek an equal platform with one another, not in a way that assumes that we are all the same, but one that recognizes that every individual has a voice—each one sounding different but no less important.
Jern-lyn is pursuing a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Psychology at John Brown University in Arkansas. She is president of Sigma Tau Delta, an English Honors Society, and serves as a copy editor in chief at The Threefold Advocate, John Brown University’s student newspaper. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, trying new foods, and spending time outdoors.