Should We Retire The Term ‘People Of Color’? Does It Erase Black People?

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Written by Ann Brown
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The term “people of color” some say helps empower a broad group of people who are non-white. But others say it actually erases Black people and ignores the fact that some “people of color” face more discrimination than other minorities.

The term has caused a debate, similar to the debate that was sparked when the term “African American” was beginnig to be used more widely than “Black.” At that time, some civil right advocates felt that the term marginalized Black people and that description of Black was actually more empowering because it would be a bigger block of people — not just African Americans but all people of African descent who lived in America.

Now writer Nadra Widatalla is proposing that the term “people of color” should be retired.

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In a piece in the Los Angeles Times, Widatalla backs her argument with several personal examples, like the time she attended a group advertised as “women of color-friendly.” When she got there, she noticed Black women were missing in the mix.

“The terms ‘women of color’ and ‘people of color’ are meant to be inclusive. But, from my perspective, they only help to leave Black people behind — specifically Black women. While every minority group faces its own challenges in America, a ‘one size fits all’ mentality toward diversity erases the specific needs of the most vulnerable communities,” she wrote.

And the evidence is in the numbers. One could go industry by industry and check diversity data, and the results most likely will be similar to what Fashion Spot’s annual “Diversity Report” revealed. According to the report, one out of every three models in 2018 fashion ads were while women of color but editorials and magazine covers lean heavily toward non-Black women of color, and the terms non-white and women of color are used repeatedly to prove diversity.

Widatalla pointed out that Black people face more discrimination than other groups.

Writer Joshua Adams came to the same conclusion in a 2018 article for Medium about the term “people of color.” He wrote: “I understand why people in society use the term ‘people of color’: it replaces the outdated term ‘colored people’ with one that is more personable and palatable; it allows for a kind of political solidarity between the non-white citizens of the country and the world; it acknowledges the ways in which racism and white supremacy affect people from many groups (not just Black people), and is a platform for their collective shared experiences, concerns, etc.”

There has been study after study that show Black people in America continue to face “the reality is that not all “people of color” suffer equally from the effects of institutional racism. Black women are least likely to be promoted and supported by their managers in the workplace,” Widatalla wrote.

Additionally, unarmed Black people are killed at higher rates than other races, especially Black women. “Black children are also almost 9 times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison while Hispanic children are three times more likely. Research also suggests that Black women are more likely to be publicly objectified, harassed and dehumanized,” Widatalla noted.

This is why there are organizations focused solely on the civil right of Black people. “Yes, other groups face systemic oppression, but while using POC (people of color) in these contexts isn’t inaccurate, it feels misleading. A ‘People of Color Lives Matter’ movement would be useful, but we can understand why ‘Black Lives Matter’ has a more specific resonance,” Adams wrote.