Minderheiten = Minorities

This has been bothering me for a while:

Why are the German students in my ethnology class so loathe to grant the minorities in Europe that we've studied the status of having their own culture? The Sorbs live on the border with Poland and are a Slavic minority—a national minority, which is always an important distinction to make, because that means they have lots of rights—and anyway, we were learning about them one day, and someone raises her hand. "Do traditional clothing and parades for Easter really constitute 'culture'?" she asked. "Do the young people care about any of it?" was also an implied question. I'm paraphrasing; it was months and months and months ago (please, semester, END ALREADY!). And it's true, traditional clothing doesn't make culture. A dying language doesn't necessarily unify a people. But they are so quick to jump to the conclusion that a group doesn't have a legitimate identity. (And therefore doesn't deserve government money; I think that was mentioned at least once.)

It's the same with the German minority in Hungary, that migrated centuries ago and never left. They have German-Hungarian societies, they have activities for the children, and they try to encourage the German language. I'm not sure how effective it is. But the students, they went on about how these people were not Germans, could not be Germans, they had been gone so long. No, they aren't—but German-Hungarians are still different from Hungarians if they see themselves that way, aren't they?

I'm aware that this is what my math and social studies textbooks liked to call 'critical thinking.' (My least favorite type of question.) My 9th grade civics textbook called it 'thinking critically,' which I always found stupid sounding. Just like civics class. But thinking critically is important, I understand. I just don't understand why they are so skeptical about minorities' authenticity.

This week, we talked about the Kurds, focusing on Turkey. The article we read tried to define who makes up the Kurds and how they've tried to achieve nationhood. It turns out that it's impossible to concretely define 'Kurd.' There are two main dialects among many, there are people who speak other languages but have traditionally considered themselves Kurds, there are Sunnis, there are Alevi, there are even Christians. I'm missing lots of different groups. There are tribes and there are urbanized city dwellers. They are spread across four countries.

One guy in my class continued to raise his hand and say how he could not see them as one minority group—which means he could not see them as a nation, because to be a nation, you need a shared language, history, territory, economy, probably other things. He would not believe that the Kurds are really one minority. And many others agreed that it was a difficult question, and yes, it is. There is a huge range of diversity and the lines have changed over the centuries. But as my teacher pointed out, shared identity, the shared feeling that you are a part of the group (and not part of the majority), is also a huge part.

I guess it's important to make sure people aren't just wanting to take control of a bunch of land and make another country just because. Or an autonomous region. But it seems to me that in America, as long as you're not white, you're part of a minority. Maybe the difference is that the only minority who could have tried to claim some of our land—wow, I just typed it that way—who could claim they were a nation and had a right to their own country is the Native Americans. So maybe it's easier to throw the term 'minority' around. Or we're just used to minority groups. Because I always thought a minority was just a group of people smaller than the biggest group. And 'minority' isn't 'nation' and isn't 'culture,' but still still still—I still think that the German students think about this differently.

P.S. I have to write 10 pages about Minderheiten in Europa by next Tuesday. And by next, I mean less than a week, and by Minderheiten in Europa, I mean that I'm actually writing about Germans in America, which is not the same thing.


Anonymous said...

Vielleicht sollst du dich im Kurs melden und das sagen, was du im Blog sagst. Solche Sachen (von den Deutschen) darf nicht unkommentiert gesagt werden!

Marisa said...

Ja, das sollte ich, aber es gibt leider keine Gelegenheit mehr. Ich frage mich, wer sind Sie? Wie haben Sie meinen Blog gefunden? Es freut mich, dass ich andere Leser habe!

Anonymous said...

Toll! Ja, durch Google Blog Search zufällig halt...