Don’t you hate it when people beat around the bush?
You probably do it all the time. We shouldn’t feel the need to tiptoe around each other, but we do it in fear of offending others. Maybe this is why we end up putting all non-white people into one box called “people of color.”
Using the phrase “people of color” is problematic because it groups together diverse people with different experiences. You might think you’re being sensitive by using this phrase to refer to non-whites, but you’re actually bunching together people with completely different struggles. People should be respectful, but also direct.
“Its sentiment is useful, but it often overlooks the particular individual that fits under this [social] umbrella,” said Amari Johnson, an Africology and African American studies professor.
The euphemism “people of color” ends up being a safe term to identify every non-white person. Americans are already very sensitive, and a term like “people of color” backtracks our growth as a society that can have tough conversations.
Race is seen as a binary — very Black or white — and the in-between groups get lumped in with Black people. If you look back at history, you’ll see that “Negro” and “colored” were the defining terms for Black people in America during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. According to NPR, “Black” became more commonplace in the mid-1960s. “African American” was popularized by Jesse Jackson in the 1980s, and “people of color” shortly followed. Somewhere along the way, this term allowed people to group all non-white people under the “people of color” umbrella.
Simplifying the terms we use to identify certain Americans is not going to make racism go away — it’s going to impede important conversations.
Emily Shaw, a freshman nursing major, is a white person who feels uncomfortable grouping non-white people together.
“The term ‘people of color’ makes white students see anyone who isn’t white as the oddity,” Shaw said.
Brandon Tang, a junior architecture major who is Asian, said he doesn’t feel like a person of color because of how he was raised.
“If we keep on using [‘people of color’], then we will never have real unity, because there will always be this mentality that these people are lesser than,” he said.
This term creates a false sense of unity between racial minority groups. Anti-Black stereotypes are sometimes perpetuated by people within other ethnic groups. In 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was accused of stealing orange juice and was subsequently killed by Korean liquor store owner Soon Ja Du. We shouldn’t have to be constantly classified together as a community.
Maryanne Yang, a junior nursing major who is Asian, said people who use the term want to be politically correct.
“Certain problems are not applicable to everyone, but then they are used to apply to everyone, like with the term ‘queer’ as a broad term for people in the LGBT community,” Yang said. “People have a problem saying certain words like… ‘Asian.’”
Amaya Perez, a freshman nursing major who is Puerto Rican, said the term is only negative when it’s used in a certain context. But she would rather be called a “Puerto Rican woman” than a “woman of color.”
“Rather than being vague, just be straightforward and say what they are,” Perez said.
There cannot be a general consensus on how race is perceived because everyone views race differently. Some would rather be called a specific identity like African-American, Black, Asian or Hispanic, while some simply want to be called American. Rather than avoiding individuality, let’s embrace our ethnicities.
Because I’m Black isn’t going to make me any less of an individual. My experiences are individual to me. Don’t shove me into a group with people who might not know or feel the same.
This is so right, great piece. Wish we as a society can address and come to terms with phrases like this. Keep up the good work.