In my world there is a pervasive cultural/ethnic minority all across the continent. They are discriminated against like many ethnic minorities on Earth, and as such often imitate the culture of the majority around them.

Do minorities discriminated against like the one described above on Earth have any common cultural elements (essentially cultural trends that seemed to be related to being a minority)? I'd like to add such an element into my ethnicity's culture to add a touch of realism.

I do realize that cultures are complex things and are widely variable. I'm really asking for about a specific element (somewhat silly ex. most minorities cultures consider dogs to be man's worst enemy), not some sort of magic common, minority culture.

Per Lee's comment, this minority group doesn't have any sort of homeland, but is bound together by a common feature (in this case lack of magical ability, though that's not very relevant). Humanity entered this continent 2000 years ago, and their previous home was destroyed. So no one really has a "homeland" for their culture.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Sep 10, 2017 at 12:35

9 Answers 9


I'm not entirely sure if this is what you're looking for, but...

Pride movements

Persecuted minorities will band together and say "we're here whether you like it or not". In the West, the most visible example would be those of Afro-Caribbean heritage. This isn't exclusive to ethnic minorities either: the majority of modern countries have strong gay pride movements as well, encompassing the entire LGBTQ spectrum.

Another phenomenon that tends to occur - I hope I can word this correctly - is that ethnic minorities in large cities tend to end up clustered together in specific districts in which they actually become the majority. Think of the Chinatowns or Little Italies in various US cities: that sort of thing. Not sure if that's what you're looking for either.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This is absolutely nothing that ethnic minorities have in common. There are countries in this world (take China) where there is little pride in being different $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 6, 2017 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Hong Kong and Tibet notwithstanding? $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2017 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ "Pride in your uniqueness" is a relatively new phenomenon. Only a few decades. $\endgroup$
    – user458
    Sep 6, 2017 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't even exclusive for minorities. I'd rather say the more common case is people being proud of membership to the majority cultural group. I'm looking at you patriotism/nationalism/racism. $\endgroup$
    – moooeeeep
    Sep 7, 2017 at 7:09

Look at a primary world example of a persistent minority that has been rather routinely discriminated against. Jews. They tend, in many regards, to turn away from the cultural norms of their numerical superiors, though they do sufficiently integrate within that majority culture. (The stereotypical Jewish doctor / lawyer / jeweler / businessman who lives next door vs. the stereotypical Amish farmer / crafstman who lives in a reasonably segregated community.)

Think also of other minority cultures within larger societies: the Irish or the Welsh in Britain; blacks in post-(Civil)war US; Gypsies.

The principal thing they all share in common is what I call a stubborn otherness. The refusal to fully capitulate ancient cultural practices or languages, the strong resistance against 100% amalgamation within the majority culture. Sometimes this resistance is very great --- the refusal to marry outside the culture group, remaining aloof from all (non-business) outside contact.

The other thing they have to share in common in what I call a dogged ostracism. This does not come from within, but rather comes from without. From the majority. The minority can not be discriminated against, no matter how radical their behaviour, if the majority refuses to ostracise and discriminate against them! This is where that utterly queer Black-Whist social caste system we had in the US stems from. It's a systematic rejection of the minority with all the brutal machinery in place to keep them in their place.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the Jews are a particularly bad example. Could you maybe explain what you mean by "turn away from the cultural norms of their numerical superiors" in the context of jewish assimilation in pre-WW1 Germany for example? $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 6, 2017 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ Here, specifically, I mean conversion to Christianity (by the advent of the Islamic invasions, the Roman world was essentially christianised, except for the Jews.) Wherever they went, they remained Jewish. They don't participate in the majority food culture, continuing to practice kosher. They have their own folklore, their own occult practices, their own folk music all of which are distinct from the majority around them. They're but one perfect example: a distinct and strong minority that is and has long been needlessly persecuted. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 6, 2017 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ Still don't think you can be that generalized. The Jewish people are a complete exception = bad example. They went all over the world and blended in differently everywhere they went. I commented about the Prussian Jews- many converted. After ww2 they established some kind of connection between their subgroups, but i don't even think one can talk about them as "one minority" . $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 7, 2017 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ Of course. And yet they remain quite distinct. As I said, they fit in to some degree, but not to the point of disappearing into the broader culture. In any event, they're the perfect example because of the long history of persecution & discrimination. Right up to the present day. We can agree to disagree on this, but I think the facts speak for themselves. Jews are a minority; they are to some degree or other discriminated against; they share stubborn otherness and dogged ostracism with other oppressed groups as per the OQ. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Sep 8, 2017 at 0:14
  • Conservative Interpretation of Traditional Culture: Assuming there is an "old country" where the minority came from, that country will have moved on in many respects. Family values, women's rights, religion, etc. Some from the diaspora will cling to old values, as handed down by their parents. Those parents might not have been the most educated of their ethnic group.
  • Mutual Support and Networking: The majority culture bankers won't give them good credit. So they go to the uncle of the godfather of the cousin, who sees the ethnic affilation as a lower credit risk, not a higher credit risk. Because the family always worked hard and repaid their debts, and they wouldn't risk their reputation in the ethnic community.
  • The dark side of this is the ethnic crime ring.
  • Traditional and Nontraditional Occupations: Being discriminated against could force the minority into low-paying jobs, on average. Would the majority population go to minority barber shops, groceries, etc.? On the other hand, the minority might be "forced" to get their own lawyers, doctors, etc. because they do not believe that they will get quality service from mainstream professionals.
  • Religious or cultural practice might push them into certain professional roles within the mainstream economy. Are they expected to be more literate than others? More practiced at mathematics?
  • Debates about Assimilation: Some will abandon their ethnic/cultural heritage and assimilate into the mainstream culture. Others will resist. The clash between those groups might have different outcomes depending on where on the continent you are.

Visible vs Invisible Minority

A visible minority is easily distinguished from the majority by appearance. The most obvious examples are African-Americans and Asian-Americans in the USA or Arabs in Europe.

Invisible minorities are phenotypically indistinguishable from the general population. Chinese and Koreans in Japan, Jews in Europe and the USA look the same as the majority but differ culturally.

The social dynamic for visible and invisible minorities is very different. Visible minorities frequently face more open discrimination. Since they cannot 'pass' for the majority they may be unable to integrate and assimilate into the mainstream society and culture (due to discrimination from the majority). Their ability to attain a high social status can be also severely hindered.

Since the differences in appearance are easily perceived, much of the minority's identity is associated with looks. It is quite possible that culturally a visible minority is similar to the majority. For example, African-Americans in the USA share the same cultural values as whites. There are some differences, of course, but when it comes to core values and attitudes US minorities differ from other cultures more than from mainstream white culture. The perception from inside the minority, however, may not reflect this, especially when ethnic and racial tension is high.

Invisible minorities usually have cultures dramatically different from the mainstream culture. They can express it through outfits, occupations, and lifestyles. Religion is frequently the main reason for this. Invisible minorities have a lot of mechanisms preventing mixing with the majority. These can range from self-isolation to limitations in choosing marriage partners. The groups are tighter and probably have greater tendency to live together since it is important for maintaining culture.

With invisible minorities, there is always more intermixing with the majority. Since minority members can pass for a majority, some of them renounce their minority heritage and assimilate into the mainstream culture.

Stereotypes and Social Status

Both types of minorities trigger the creation of stereotypes and urban legends. Some of these stereotypes can be negative (think about black lazy criminals in the USA) and some can be positive (Asians as a model minority in the USA). Negative stereotypes are more prevalent, though, and positive are frequently accompanied by negative (in the USA Asian men are seen as smart but lacking sexual prowess).

It is possible that a minority has higher social status and/or higher income than the majority due to positive traits attributed to minority members or occupations that they traditionally choose. For example, in the USA, persons of Jewish ancestry are one of the highest earners despite their minority status. When it comes to race, Asians are the highest earners (same link).

Unfortunately, the majority of minorities have lower status and lower income due to a social stigma attached to them. It does not matter whether the minority is visible or invisible. For example, burakumin is a highly ostracised invisible minority in Japan. Burakumin are ethnically Japanese but during the Edo period (1603–1867) they became outcasts restricted to 'impure' occupations such as butchering and cleaning. Even today, despite all the anti-discrimination laws there are firms specialising in background checks of potential spouses to prevent marriages with people of burakumin ancestry.

Racial and Ethnic Tensions

It might seem as a good idea to depict minority-majority dynamic as a high-tension situation, especially if you or your audience are USA-based. However, American racial situation is rather unusual. There are many multi-ethnicity and multi-racial countries where it does not lead to constant social conflicts.

People who come to the USA from Europe are often surprised to discover how much race and ethnicity matter in America. In Europe the differences are handled in a much subtler way. The cultural emphasis also differs: one is a national of a particular country first and a member of a certain race or ethnicity next. In the USA it seems to be reversed: one's racial and ethnic status matters more than nationality.

How to Integrate It into Storytelling

I think that it is important to decide first whether your minority is visible or invisible. Then you can build on it.

If it is a visible minority, you can add scenes where someone reacts to their looks, makes a comment, or jumps to a wrong assumption. Depending on minority-majority relationships depictions of a riot or ethnic area might be appropriate. A couple of colourful details would bring things to life.

In case of invisible minority, I would focus on cultural differences and perceptions. Something like cultural misunderstanding can be an effective way to introduce your minority. Names can be also very important here. While mentioned-above burakumin are indistinguishable from Japanese in culture and appearances, their surnames betray their origins. Your minority characters may be forced to hide their names.

Of course, marriage is always a good way to highlight ethnical or racial tensions. Potential in-laws might be concerned with tainting their bloodline, losing social status, or cultural incompatibility. They can be supportive or not. There are plenty of variations here. And you can play with both families and their reactions.

I would try to be very careful to avoid stereotyping your minority characters. The differences among individuals within a group are usually higher than the differences between groups that live in the same area. I also think that it can make an interesting story if you show how an individual deals with their minority identity.


Minorities scattered in the whole world are somewhat unstable and tend to disaggregate into the "larger container" (process may take many generations) unless some characteristic makes them very recognizable both within and without the community.

This characteristic may be purely physical (e.g.: color of skin), but can also be purely cultural (with all shades in between, of course); in the latter case there is a tendency to "reinforce" the link with "somewhat arbitrary" rules enforced in ways that seem excessive to an outside observer.

A particularly interesting case, here on Earth, is Abraham progeny, who managed to remain a very tightly knit community in spite of being scattered around the world since more than two millenniums.

They are almost an unicum in being a People not having any place (till recent times) where thy actually are a majority. Other peoples (e.g.: Armenians) have had their "home" subdivided in pieces and thus they are minorities in all countries that annexed them, but they still are majority "somewhere".

Many minority communities use hard rules to tie together members, so you have prohibited foods, dress codes, specific ceremonies to be done at fixed times of the day, etc.

I think this is a trait you can find in all successful (in the meaning of "stable over time") minorities.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Abraham['s] progeny [...] managed to remain a very tightly knit community": except of course the neverending war between the Senior and Most Numerous Branch of Ishmael and the Junior Branch of Isaac, of course. Currently many of the descendants of the two sons of Abraham are finding it hard to share Palestine without killing each other... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 6, 2017 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: I won't be pulled into a specific discussion (on very slippery ground!) that has nothing to do with OP. Both progenies (among others) show said traits; that's enough for my purpose. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Sep 6, 2017 at 14:37

I would give them their own language or dialect, and some different cultural trappings to go with it (specifically including religion).

This would be consistent with what happened with other geographically dispersed minority communities I'm aware of: eastern European Jews (Yiddish), Romany (Romani), and African-Americans (AAVE).

This shows you two basic paths with the Ashkenazi Jews being the middle road:

  1. The minority manages to keep themselves so completely separate that they have their own completely different language, along with a completely different cultural package of faith, traditions, behavior, identity, etc. They actually borrow next to nothing from surrounding cultures, because they don't really need to (IOW: it wouldn't do them much good if they did).
  2. The minority is so oppressed that their culture and language was by-and-large forcibly stripped from them. Their language and religion and most of the rest of their culture at one point became that of the oppressor (with a very few small holdovers). However, since that stripping, their society has drifted so that they have developed their own dialect, religious denominations, and culture within the larger culture. If anything, the larger culture likes to "appropriate" things it likes from their culture, rather than the other way around. But most participants can easily code-switch when necessary (outside of any physical differences)

Basic point here being: most of the cultural "borrowing" will likely go the other way. An annoying amount of fiction seems to miss this. People will only assimilate to the extent they will be allowed to participate in that majority society if they do so (and they perceive that participation as being to their advantage).


Minorities may define themselves among themselves. That is for purposes of cultural solidarity. Discrimination against a minority is an action taken by the majority. The only prerequisite for discrimination is a characteristic that persons wishing to discriminate can attribute to persons putatively in the minority. This characteristic can be completely subjective. It can be completely invented. There does not need to be objective proof.

For example: I think it will advance my political career to identify and persecute witches (persecution being an aggressive form of discrimination). I identify some persons as witches so that they might be persecuted. They will of course protest that they are not, and the entire process of identifying witches and then dealing with them is part of the discrimination and helps advance the ends I am pursuing.

Instead of witches you can substitute Communists, or homosexuals, or Jews or what have you. It does not matter as long as there is a quality that can be attributed to persons who are to be put in that minority.

It is easier in some respects if the minority actually does have some objective quality identifying them as such, like a special haircut or skin tone. But then the discriminating party does not get the added benefit of the identification process which serves the same cultural power goals as the discrimination itself.

A majority interested in persecuting a minority can establish who is in that minority and that is the common cultural element: they are defined as people to be discriminated against.



Though in some groups this becomes an inverted snobbery when someone tries to escape a cultural poverty trap, "You think you're too good for us".

The maintenance of an identity against the amorphous mass of modern society requires pressure, either one way or the other. When the minority group is being casually oppressed by the majority, that pressure is easy to identify and hence the culture can remain clearly distinct. While some groups without clear racial distinction can assimilate largely at will, the support of the community is lost if they do so.

Should the external pressure of racism be reduced then the pressure to remain within the group starts to come from within and it comes in the form of pride, to the point of having a superiority complex, regarding their own culture and background. Shikse is not a nice word, the fact you might marry one really doesn't go down well.


Disadvantaged minorities will generally resent their exlusion by the rest of society, especially where it is perceived as disproportionate and unjust. This common feeling will tend to unify them and will be instrumental in constructing a culture, even if one did not previously exist.

They will identify themselves by their common features, which will achieve more prominence in their culture. Non-common features, like perhaps colour will be of far less importance than within outside society generally, and this will be perceived as a further difference and, in its own way, make their culture seen as preferable and fairer.

It is not unusual for minorities to be objectified and labelled with pejorative terms. Intended to be abusive, these terms may actually be taken by the minority and adopted with pride. This is a way of not only asserting identity, but also of confronting and confusing prejudice - it confounds the verbal abuse when accepted willingly by the abused.

In essence, the evolving culture will tend to centre around the common features that identify an unify the minority. Lack of these features will be used to label the 'others', the oppressive majority, the outsiders.

There will also be a definitive belief that the way that things are done in the minority culture is the right and preferable way of doing things (even if they have no real choice in the matter). It may not be quicker, or cheaper, or easier, but it will get labeled as 'authentic' or 'traditional' or sometimes simply 'our way of doing things'.

  • $\begingroup$ What does this add that other answers haven't already said? This is very similar to the top two answers. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Sep 9, 2017 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DonyorM - the difference here is that I have not considered a strong historic or geographic distinction. I am talking about an evolving culture rather than an already existing one. It is also, not necessarily going to result in ghettos. People in a disability culture are likely to be distributed amongst others. I have disabled friends and this is true. They are likely to share many elements of culture with the majority, they are likely to be a subset, rather than completely culturally distinct, but nonetheless still have their own cultural identity. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Sep 9, 2017 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ With respect to the majority, they will view the minority with pity, rather than otherwise, but that can take many different forms and, when they start viewing them as unable the pity becomes more oppressive. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Sep 9, 2017 at 16:17

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