Stop Using ‘People of Color’ Phrase

I won’t go through the long list of ethnic adjectives used throughout history to describe various peoples (Savages, Redskins, Negroes, Coloreds, Kaffirs, etc.). That is not my concern. My concern is the phrase, People of Color, which, over the last ten years, has become the main descriptor for those not of European descent.

Each time I hear  People of Color, I am reminded that I have the burden of race, and then I start to wrestle with what this means. Does this mean that white people lack color, which is genetically nonsensical? The incident that placed the phrase into perspective, was the Benedict Cumberbatch mini-controversy, in which he used “Colored people,” instead of “People of Color.” If POC is okay, then why not Colored people?

POC is not an ideal term. POC does not challenge white supremacy norms, which is used to justify the exclusion of Non-White Peoples (NWP) from the mainstream (most glaringly in media and entertainment). It excludes NWP on account of the burden of race, which can be defined to mean that while whites are raceless and normal, nonwhites are not. A nonwhite person is always limited to racial expectations, while whites are deemed individuals, and are judged as such.color-of-people In context, this means that the failure of a Tom Cruise movie hurts Tom Cruise (an individual). The failure of a Denzel Washington movie hurts black actors (see: Sony Email Hack Scandal).

The phrase, People of Color, keeps the burden of race on NWP by reminding us that we have “race.” It gives whites a justification for exclusion. Consider the case of [children’s] book publishing, which is upwards of eighty five percent white. In reality, there is no reason why there hasn’t been an Hispanic Katniss Everdeen, an Asian Bella Swan, or an African-descended Harry Potter.

In the U.S.A, where close to forty percent of the population is non-white, and the majority of children are non-white, we are frequently told that books with non-whites just don’t sell (do a Google search for whitewashed book covers). Novels written by white authors about white characters are deemed relatable/sellable to all races (universal in appeal). Books with non-white protagonists are deemed sellable only to those who share the protagonist’s ethnicity. Whites, we are told, assimilate into roles, and are like blank slates, free of the “baggage” that often comes with this race or other.

The “burden of race” means that many believe books featuring non-whites are about race (as opposed to simply being entertainment). Moreover, the publishing industry is more willing to publish books by non-whites if they’re about “sociological” topics (race, gender, poverty and crime), which further maintains the burden of race. See Zora Neale Hurston’sEssay on this topic.

The burden of race means that, as Nonwhites, we are our race, first and foremost, and often, that means stereotypes. To loosely quote Carl Lee Hailey’s words to Jake Brigance in 1996’s A Time to Kill: no matter how  you look at me, you will never see me as just a man, but always as a black man. 

Terms like Minorities (a misleading synonym for NWP) and People of Color allow white people to covet qualities such as universality, individuality and normalcy. The phrase POC doesn’t challenge white-as-default (blamed for the race controversy regarding the casting of Rue in the Hunger Games). It plays into white-as-default.

It’s time that society opts for a more race-neutral phrase (Non-Whites or Non-White People). After all, the goal is to the challenge white normalcy, not play into its hands by accepting the burdens and roles it assigns us.

In conclusion, racelessness is a white privilege, and it shouldn’t be. Who determines that whites are more normal than blacks, and therefore more relatable? This is what we’ve been told for the last five hundred years. If no one challenges it, then nothing will change.


About TCDH

Blogger with an opinion.
This entry was posted in Black people, Commentary, People, race, Rant and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Stop Using ‘People of Color’ Phrase

  1. People of color is a very outdated term. I used to say it a lot myself. But I think it’s time to let it go. It just doesn’t sound right anymore.

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