Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why I Hate "People of Color"

Please note the quotation marks in the title. I hate the expression, not the people. I hate it because it is illogical, ungrammatical, and reminiscent of the South African apartheid regime’s race classification system.

Traditionally African-Americans were called colored people or Negroes. These were the polite terms, while racists used other, hateful words. The NAACP still refers to its constituents as colored people, but in the 1960s the term started to fall out of favor as many preferred to be called black or African-American. The words “colored” and “negro” came to be considered almost derogatory, though the NAACP did not change its name.

Then, in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. made a reference in a speech to “people of color” rather than “colored people.” From the context it is clear he was referring not just to African-Americans but to all people who have been historically oppressed by people of European ancestry. The expression has steadily gained currency and is now widely used by journalists, academics, politicians and the media. There was never a discussion or debate about this; it just happened.
King was a great speaker and a master of the language, but I believe he made a mistake coining this expression. It raises too many questions and becomes a distraction. It is not clearly defined, but implies a binary system with two identifiable groups, people who are of color and people who are not of color. Whatever “of color” means, this is not the real world.

Furthermore, we don’t say “a rose of red.” We say “a red rose.” So why say “people of color” instead of “colored people”? And why does the former include non-African-Americans while the latter does not?

Logically, the existence of people of color implies that there are people who have no color. But wouldn’t that make them invisible? On the other hand, true white is a blend of all the colors of the rainbow, while true black is true lack of color. Why, then, are black-skin people called colored people or people of color while white-skin people are not? It would be more accurate to call whites people of color.

In reality, the skins of so-called black people are on a vast spectrum from light brown to very dark brown to almost black. The skins of so-called white people are on a vast spectrum from pink to very light brown to dark brown. The colors of these two groups overlap in a vast middle.
As a group, people of color far outnumber those known as colored people which, in the US, includes only African-Americans. King’s use of the term to include all historically oppressed people, even though many have skin color similar to that of Europeans, leads to confusion.

Now some people use the term “people of color” for all non-Europeans, whether historically oppressed or not and whether light-skinned or dark. Most Asians, Jews and Irish have light skin. It is illogical to call them people of color simply because some of them endured oppression. On the other hand, it could be argued from the physics of light that light-skin people are the real people of color.
See what I mean about inconsistencies and ambiguities? This is why I avoid using the term “people of color” and I cringe a little when others use it. Besides, we need to get away from the obsession with skin color. It is literally the shallowest of all human features, the least meaningful and the least important. Let's try to come up with more accurate and meaningful terms for groups of people. 

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