I am speaking out of the perspective of a black woman with obvious African features. I belong to one of the most underrepresented minority groups in the world. White presenting blacks, asians and other ethnic groups might have very different experiences.
A recent discussion has re-sparked interest to discuss if the term “people of colour” is actually as appreciated, welcomed and non-racist as we think.
Wikipedia: The term “people of colour” is attractive because it unites disparate racial and ethnic groups into a larger collective in solidarity with one another.
The term poc was created originally in the USA as a non-racist umbrella term for everybody ‘other than white’. It was set to replace any other past terminology like “coloured” etc. This term is as fantastic as it is problematic. The unity the term offers made me feel like I finally belong to something. I liked that after living all my life in white communities. Finally I had a “home”. But the term also covers up my blackness. It puts me into a big pond with all other ethic groups. Being referred to as “woman of colour” doesn’t explain that I am black. I am suddenly easier to digest for whites. Do I want that? NO I don’t. So the term leaves me with mixed feelings.
At the same time when I started using “people of colour” I also started using ‘white people’ for non-poc. It felt very liberating to finally have a term for people “other” than poc. I’ve never used it in a racist manner but white people like to think it’s a racist expression because they are not used to be referred to as anything other then human. It makes them uncomfortable. As uncomfortable as calling me “black”. However to me the term “white people” is the logical language extension since there is terminology been used for us “people of colour” too. If I am black you are white. How can being called white be racist while being called black is legit? And why are you uncomfortable anyway? Check yourself.
During my upbringing in Germany I was mainly being called “mulatto” and “mixed raced”. While these where totally unacceptable terms in the USA they where used a lot in 80’/90’ Germany. It was also honourable for a white person to say “I don’t see colour” or “All people are the same” . They literally prided themselves with these sayings and got padded on the back by their white friends for it.
I had mixed feelings towards being called a “mulatto” even thought it was never used as a slur towards me. “Mixed raced” however never bothered me much. Why? It was the least offensive out there . So I settled with it. I had to do some research when the term “people of colour” arrived and was reluctant to used it at first. But after all I agreed with the new term as many black women around me started using it and again I liked the sudden feeling of unity.
I’ve definitely risen above the standard that’s been set by white people that say “all people are the same” as this term is promoting colour blindness. Seeing no colour basically erases the “person of colour”. When a white person says they “see no colour” they mean that the ‘other person’ in front of them is treated like a white person. Implying they treat white people better then others to start with. This is a racist concept.
All the terms I knew of used in the past where classed racist at some point and I adapted to the new term “people of colour” that unites all ‘other”. Many “people of colour” in present time prefer to be acknowledged as ‘other then white” as they look different and have grown up with a very different experience. Not acknowledging this would also erase the minority experience of their lives. People are very proud of their lived experiences and having them swiped under a rug is very hurtful. But so is being “brown washed” under the term “people of colour”…
I am proud of my features, my talents, my experience and I want white people to acknowledge me for who I am as much as I acknowledge them. I prefer to be called “black” rather then “woman of colour” because it specifies exactly.
As much as I don’t hate the term “people of colour”. Looking at it closer it does seem like a lazy term. It might work well when talking about groups but it actually gets insulting when talking about an individual. It’s a term that gives white people a better feeling talking about minorities. We got a bit lured into using it. Giving us a positive group experience that erases our real individual backgrounds.
So as a conclusion I guess whites still have to ask the individual they want to address first. The term “people of colour” or “woman of colour” does not replace the responsibility to care. Something that’s ok for me might be insulting to another. And not being racist means taking the responsibility serious and not shrugging us all under an umbrella term thats hides our identities just because it’s easy and comfortable.
Featured Picture by Zen Cohen