“We are not minorities. We have been minoritized. We are not underrepresented. We have been historically excluded. Language matters.”Janel Cubbage
On June 4, 2020, I wrote a post on Instagram about the term “people of color” and some thoughts I had regarding it. I shared a screenshot of a tweet by Johnathan S. Perkins that read, “The term “people of color” sets white as the default and automatically racializes everyone who isn’t white as having “color”. There are more non-white people on this planet than white people.
- non-white people
- Black and Brown people.”
Initially I remarked how I don’t like to use the term “people of color”, but this opens a discussion not only on the term “people of color” but how important our usage of language is. So, shouldn’t “people of color” be a helpful term to use when discussing racism and whyte supremacy? After all, it helps us understand that anyone who is not whyte faces racism (defined as prejudice plus power). In addition, it helps create a sense of solidarity between minority groups because of shared experiences, so why take issue with the term? My issue is not about the term “people of color” itself, but rather the historical thought behind it. Who is a person of color? Who is a minority? What are the connotations and/or implications behind this terminology? Let’s consider the term BIPOC which means Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. As noted by Jessica Cheng, BIPOC is exclusionary. “How?” you might ask. Well, Cheng explains it like this, “[BIPOC] means “Black, Indigenous (to continental America), and (all other) POC (People of Color).” Non-white Latine and Hispanics are typically considered Indigenous to Continental America and/or Black. So “all other” logically becomes “Asian, but we don’t want to say that because we don’t want to deal with the messiness of mixed people.” Why? Because anti-Asians believe Asian = Yellow Asian, specifically to erase Brown Asians, especially Muslim Asians and Polynesians.”
What we can see from Cheng’s words here is that the term BIPOC is not as expansive as we may think nor is it a real umbrella term. What can also be read into her analysis of the term is that it is exclusionary in nature and is also an erasure (or intentional overlooking) of mixed identity and the issue of colorism. When someone refers to someone as being “Asian”, what appearance typically comes to mind? Is it a person of East Asian descent, or is it a Brown person, perhaps from Bangladesh or India?
Maybe you envision a person from Yemen or Saudi Arabia? If not, then why is that, you presume? Who is considered Asian? Why are people, who are all from Asia, treated differently from one another? Who is the “other” in BIPOC and why are they not named? These are deep questions, but necessary ones. The assertation is that BIPOC does not consider all groups of non-whyte people. Jessica Cheng further states that POC is a more effective and expansive term as it includes every people group that is non-whyte, thus it is not a term that is exclusionary to Asian people. If Cheng makes excellent points (that I agree with) then why don’t I use the term people of color? Well, it’s not that cut and dry. I do use the term POC, however, I prefer to use the term non-whyte. I also use the phrase “non-Black person of color” (NBPOC).
My opinion is that of Johnathan S. Perkins above: Non-whyte people are the default, not the other way around. We’re really not “minor” at all. We are the global majority.
“We tell Black and brown kids they’re ‘minorities’ when, in reality, they are the whole planet.”Jessica Care Moore
The term “people of color” then centers whyteness in that there are whyte people and then there are “others” with color. Why do whyte people get to standalone and every other racial group on earth is lumped into one category? This phraseology categorizes us into one of two categories: whyte, or non-whyte. It can be argued, however, that “people/person of color” and “non-whyte” are essentially the same. After all, non-whyte categorizes all people into one of two categories right? For me, debating between the two phrases is non-essential. I’d rather focus on how language is used thus shaping our perspectives. This brings us right back to Perkins’ words, “There are more non-white people on this planet than white people.”
Furthermore, I use the phrase “non-Black person of color” to indicate when a person is neither whyte or Black. Racialization has created a Black-White binary that sees Blackness as the direct opposite of whiteness thus creating a specific type of racism and racial prejudice known as “anti-Blackness”. Instead of racism in a broad sense being oppressive racial prejudice toward simply “people of color”, anti-Blackness has a polarizing effect that targets Black people specifically. Anti-Blackness, whilst derived from whyte supremacy, can and often is a prejudice that non-whyte people hold and enact against Black people. Here, I use “non-Black person of color” when communicating that this is a people that is marginalized and affected by racism yet either benefit from not being Black or are prejudiced toward Black people. I most commonly use the term when discussing anti-Blackness within non-whyte communities. In that vein, it is important to remember that the idea of race is mainly based on phenotypes. So then anti-Blackness is at base rooted in being prejudiced towards phenotypical Blackness or Afrocentric features (dark skin, wide nose, big lips, textured hair etc.) and anything that is closer to whiteness is more societally acceptable. This is not to disregard or diminish the racist trauma that lighter-skinned people or people of mixed race face.
Still, the terms NBPOC and “Black and Brown people” again leave out those who Cheng refers to as “Yellow” or AAPI (Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders) people. The large point being, instead of always speaking generally and grouping every non-whyte racial group together, perhaps we should use more specific language (where possible). Who are we talking about at the moment? What struggles are unique to that particular group? All of this serves to say that oppression isn’t linear, there are intersections of privilege and marginalization that all people meet, and that the language we use matters.
I am not a minority nor am I simply a person of color. I am Black and a person of color, I am a woman, I am brown-skinned, I am able-bodied, I am neurotypical. Some of my identities give me a societal privilege, others do the opposite. All of this matters. Our struggles are collective as they are individual and my identity and how I move throughout the world is specific. My story is my own and our stories are intertwined. We all meet certain intersections of oppression and privilege. There will be times we speak generally and there will be times we need to be more specific. Our duty as citizens of the world is to honor the humanity inherent in every human being and establish a more equitable and just society for all, sometimes that means devoting energy to topics like language. To quote Cubbage, “Language matters.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”Martin Luther King Jr.
Author’s Note: Jessica Cheng uses the term “Yellow” to better describe where Yellow people (generally AAPI and those who are East Asian) sit in terms of race. When we consider who is Asian, the image of Arab or Indian people isn’t typically who we think of first. We instead refer to them as Arab, Middle-Eastern, Indian, Pakistani, etc. but Asia is an incredibly rich and diverse continent with vastly unique cultures. The distinction between who is considered Asian and who is specified will open up discussions about colorism and imperialism in the process of racialization and racism. In closing, every person, Asian, African, and Indigenous to the Americas is a person of color. Although our lives, cultures, and experiences are unique, we have much in common. We are the global majority.
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Social Media and Websites:
Janel Cubbage (@JanelCubbage on Twitter), Johnathan S. Perkins (@JohnathanPerk on Twitter, johnathansperkins.com, website, Jessica Cheng (@Jessica.Cheng.Og on Instagram), and Jessica Care Moore (@JessicaCareMoor on Instagram)
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