Especially popularized during the summer resurgence of Black Lives Matter, the term “person of color,” or POC, is used to describe anyone who isn’t white. Yet, as a young “person of color,” I find this term to be counterproductive, as it overgeneralizes a complexity of minority cultures into one singular group.
According to Oxford English Dictionary, the term “person of color,” or POC, began as the French term “gens de couleur” to distinguish those of mixed African and European heritage from those who were fully African. Popularized in the United States through speeches made by Civil Rights leaders, it became a phrase to describe minorities. Today, Oxford English Dictionary defines a “person of color” as “a person who is not white or of European parentage.” Despite this seemingly straightforward definition, this phrase contains many caveats that render this term senseless.
With the descriptor of “of color,” many automatically presume that it refers to the actual color of a person’s skin, convincing them that a visual inspection is needed prior to assigning anyone this label. This leaves many questions, such as: does an albino Black count as a person of color? Does one of light complexion of non-European
descent, like of Chinese or Turkish nationality, count as a person of color? Does one of mixed descent, yet with a light complexion, count as a person of color? This confusion, although it does not even abide by the official dictionary definition, already foreshadows the nonsensical nature of this term.
Accompanying the large-scale re-education that would be needed in order to correctly define the term to all who use it, there lies further complications within the correct definition itself. During the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matters protests during the summer of 2020, activists sought to placate aforementioned confusion by referring to POCs as all those affected by racial persecution stemming from systemic white supremacy. Basically, this term sought to combine approximately 77.72 million people in the United States, considered nonwhite according to a poll taken in 2019 by the Statista Research Department, into a unilateral term that would be used to advocate for social justice across the nation.
Yet, combining these vastly different groups of people is illogical. Various minorities face different challenges, so combining all their struggles into one descriptor diminishes a certain struggle one group might face that differs from another group. Often, this “umbrella” term is used to describe plights that only a certain minority group, most commonly Blacks and Hispanics, truly face. For example, Vice President Kamala Harris stated there is a necessity for the legalization of marijuana to remediate targeted ”communities of color.” This term overshadowed the statistic, presented by
Brookings.edu, of how Black Americans are arrested on cannabis offenses at a rate of 4:1 compared to white Americans.
As well as its capability to lead to great inaction, this term erases the uniqueness of each ethnicity and culture. Grouping together all in one ‘affected’ community blends a variety of experiences and struggles that are respective to each particular group. It is foolish to combine all racial groups except white into one and expect that term to have any meaningful and fair connotation, especially in the perspective of politics and social justice.
Inside the term itself, the combination of all minority groups as one creates a false illusion of minority cohesion. Although it is a delightful dream of unity, this term fails to identify racism and prejudice within these groups themselves, like anti-blackness within Hispanic communities or anti-Asian sentiment within Black communities. The presentation of a united group of minorities erases, even more so, their plights in the nation.
This arrangement goes further to breed unnecessary competition amongst the minority groups it essentially fails to combine. With the proliferation of this term, remarks on the differing scales of injustices of certain minority groups have emerged. In a survey analysis by Efrén Pérez of the Washington Post, “when ‘people of color’ feel that their narrower racial group’s unique challenges are being ignored, the unity behind ‘people of
color’ crumbles.” Essentially, when seeking better opportunities for all, it is unnecessary to argue that “I have it worse.”
Currently, POC is being increasingly exchanged for the term Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC. This term serves primarily to highlight the struggles of Blacks and Indigenous groups, citing two minorities who have faced historically degrading and unique forms of oppression. BIPOC has emerged to highlight those who are even more severely impacted by racial injustices than other minority groups. Yet, Black and Indigenous groups have themselves faced differing forms of historical and current racism, so is it even sensical to combine these groups either?