The term “person of color” has become widely used by those who advocate education about the world’s diversity, which I think is quite ironic. In the dictionary, “person of color” means, “a person who is not white or of European parentage,” and so-called diversity advocates have begun to use the term to refer to non-white characters in the media that non-white people, theoretically, can relate to. Yet the inherent problem with the term “people of color,” is that it refuses to recognize the cultural distinctions between different “minority” groups.
How can we group approximately 90% of the world’s population into one, monocultural umbrella term and assume that that is equivalent to giving the other 10% of the population a distinguishable group of their own? It’s simply not. Most of the world is not white, and most of the world is not European.
As Americans, we are only now slowly overcoming the Black-white racial divide and fighting for justice for Black people, but for me and my non-white, non-Black friends, the questions, “Do you speak English?” or “Can you pronounce this in Indian/Chinese/Arabic?” are still commonplace. In the book American Mixed-Race: The Culture of Microdiversity (Naomi Zack, 1995), Stephen Saris identifies two major racial divides in America: the Black-white racial divide, and the white-everyone else one.
“First, there is the black–white kind, which is basically anti-black.” The second racial divide is the one “between whites and everyone else” with whites being “narrowly construed” and everyone else being called “people of color” (Saris).
– Wikipedia, citing American Mixed-Race: The Culture of Microdiversity by Naomi Zack, 1995
Black lives matter, they do, and Black people face challenges, especially in America, but when we use the term “people of color,” we come to the second type of racism Saris identifies. But as we do this, we put Black people in the same umbrella category as all other “minorities,” which we call, “persons of color.”
I don’t think we recognize that the Black “person of color” experience is not the Indian-American “person of color” experience, which is not the Chinese-American “person of color” experience, which is not the Arab-American “person of color” experience. The difference between Black Americans and Indian-Americans or Chinese-Americans or Arab-Americans or Middle Eastern-Americans is that we all come from different cultures. The difference between us is not because of skin color, but persists mostly because of culture, and our lack of understanding of the different cultures present in the world. For me in particular, this comes in the form of people not recognizing that I am just as American as the next white person, regardless of how I was look, or whether I was born to immigrant parents.
When we use the umbrella term, “people of color,” that is just us trying to avoid recognizing the individual challenges of each group based on cultural stereotypes and common misconceptions. The fact simply is that each minority group experiences different “people of color” challenges, and a large part of the problem is our refusal to recognize that these experiences are indeed different. It’s not fair to group them all under one, homogeneous, general term. They’re just not equatable.
The term “people of color” generalizes the non-white, non-European experience, and applies it to every “minority” community in America. Do I have to fight against police brutality or for an education, like many of my African-American or Black peers? No, I don’t. But every day I have to prove that I can speak English. I have to prove I don’t smell like curry. I have to prove that I love my english and history classes perhaps more than I’ll ever love math. And to assume that those two experiences can be grouped together under the same umbrella term is wrong. It’s not just “politically incorrect.” It devalues the challenges and defaces the identity of each non-white ethnicity. And ultimately, “people of color” adds, essentially, nothing to the fight for the recognition of diversity, except, perhaps, the notion that the world is half-white and half-everybody-else.
DISCLAIMER: I support people of all ethnicities, identities, and so-called “minorities.” As an Indian-American myself, I completely understand what it’s like to be stereotyped and/or have incorrect facts presented about you or your identity group. Please let me know if anything I have written is offensive to you and/or politically incorrect, whether in content or phrasing, and I will be more than happy to correct it.