Ingroups and Outgroups

In my last post, I used the words majority and minority. As we examine different dimensions of culture, there are also different majority and minority groups. These terms refer to the number of people who fit into a certain demographic group, but these terms may not always be accurate. For example, although men are considered the majority gender group in the United States, women slightly outnumber men (51% to 49%). Another example is Christians; while they are the religious majority in our country, they are a minority religion across the globe.

Rather than use the terms majority and minority, I prefer the terms ingroup and outgroup. Outgroups are cultural groups that are disenfranchised, exploited, and victimized in a variety of ways by the social structure. Ingroups are dominant cultural groups that are privileged by birth or acquisition, who knowingly or unknowingly, reap an unfair advantage over members of the outgroup.

To put this in an apolitical context, we can look at handedness. If you are right handed, you can go day to day without ever considering your dominant hand. It’s something that you probably don’t think about often, if at all. However, people who are left handed are forced to think about it more than you may realize.

For example, most public computer stations are set up for people to mouse with their right hand. Many pens and scissors work better if you are right handed. Sports equipment such as ball gloves and golf clubs are usually designed with right handers in mind. In large college lecture halls, the flip up desks are made for right handed students. Cameras and some power tools are easier to use if you are right handed.

As a right handed person, I was unaware of the challenges that left handed people faced. Simply put, left handed people are put at a disadvantage and right handed people have no idea. If you are right handed, you are part of the numerical majority (90%) and the ingroup.

Exploited and victimized? These are strong words to describe an outgroup and they might make you cringe. While being left handed carries little social stigma today, historically it did. I know someone who was born left handed and she told many stories of being smacked on the hands and even having her left hand tied behind her back while she was in public school during the 1950s. All of this was due to the social stigma attached to being left handed. Today, the idea of punishing a child for being left handed seems pretty ridiculous.

The change in attitude about handedness reiterates a point from an earlier post: culture is fluid and it can change. We cannot imagine such things happening today simply for being left handed. I wonder what other aspects of culture will also change with time. Have you noticed certain cultural dimensions becoming more accepted in your lifetime? What changes have you observed? Do you think these changes are for the better? Why or why not?

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