One of the biggest developments in the 20th century was no doubt the growth of movements promoting equality, against oppression based on race, gender, sexual orientation, class and so on. That these all grew in such a short time is very interesting; it makes you wonder why in the history of civilisation these things hadn't worked and then they came in a rush. Some people would argue that the length of time this oppression went on justifies it as being 'natural'. Some people would say women had always had a lesser place in society so that's just the way it is.
Obviously, that's a terrible argument. These issues have so many factors and elements to them; I couldn't possibly go into it all. But the point that interests me is the idea of a 'minority'. Obviously, this starts life as a statistical grouping, though in real life it's more of a physical thing. People are more often than not singled out as being part of a minority by their appearance. Looking different was often very bad. Their small numbers made them easy to surround, cut off and oppress without raising any problems in society.
But what is a minority statistically? Is it anything less than a majority? Is 49% of society a minority? Obviously one gender will be a statistical minority but that won't make any difference in and of itself. So how far do you limit it? 30%? 20%? The point is it's not an inherently statistical thing, despite attempts to classify it. Generally, it is a group of people that are seen as 'different' from the predominate viewpoint of society. This can lead to the interesting situation where the view that distinguished minorities is one only seen by a small percentage of society- but the important one, the ones with all the money and the power. This is particularly prominent in the US, where society is still geared as a white male dominated system, yet their numbers are decreasing and 'minorities' are making huge population advances.
Anyway, my main point was that a minority as a percentage of society isn't a good indicator, because it will depend on the size of society. When the world headed into the 20th century, it wasn't nearly as full of people as it is now. Even if the statistical make-up of society remained constant, there would still be more net people in these minorities. For instance: 10% of 100 is 10, 10% of 10,000 is 1,000. While the 10 and 1,000 are still the same percent, their actual number is different. Sure, the 1,000 are surrounded by a lot more people. But if you group them all together in one place, their numbers reach the point where they are no longer a 'minority' and you cannot oppress them. So if you put those 10% all in one hall for a meeting, the total number becomes very important.
Several things brought me to think of this; firstly watching the amazing film Milk, which showed how Harvey Milk rose to political office in San Fransico; he was the first openly gay man elected in California; his story is fairly remarkable and very well told in the movie. What I found interesting was the focus on the way the disenfranchised minorities gathered together around Castro Street and the surrounding locations, and the power that this gave them. Obviously it had political implications for voting, especially when areas were re-zoned. But generally it seemed to help the culture flourish. It's incredible what can happen when you bring people together; though they would be a minority elsewhere and easily singled out, there they were the majority in their own patch. And that's an interesting thought.
Secondly, I recently was reading/listening to someone talking about being at ComicCon (I can't remember who) and one thing he said was that it 'makes you feel more famous than you are'. This is the same point again- all those sci-fi, fantasy nerds were all grouped in one place, so it was very easy to think of them as the majority and hence the norm. Today the popularity of these things is becoming well-entrenched in society, but you can imagine in days gone by where being 'nerds' was treated with disdain, that these gatherings would have been even more important for these people because it allowed them not to feel different, but to feel like one of the crowd. That, more than anything, is what equality is really about. Not being given proportional opportunities, but just feeling like you are normal and fit in- that whatever it is about you that once may have seen you ostracised will no longer be any consideration consciously or sub-consciously in the minds of others. I'm all for that.
Finally, I was watching some of the TV show on The Kennedys (what a tragic family!!) and there was one scene focusing on the incident concerning a black student trying to enrol in a white university in Mississippi in the early 1960's. This was a big deal at the time. Scenes showed angry protesters shouting messages of hate at this man, just for wanting to go to this university. I sat there and wondered where those people are today and what people would think of them now. It was the same with the people in Milk. Obviously the late 20th century saw a great move towards acceptance of people, but there is undoubtedly more to be done. I realised that 'conservatism' is simply people who are too grounded in the past and not willing to move on. That's the same logic that led to two World Wars and the pointless deaths of so many people throughout history.