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Please Stop Referring To Me As A Person of Color. I Am Black.

This blog has been on my mind for several months as I watched the narrative change around saying Black people suddenly turn to People of Color. I, too, got caught up in this phrase and used it in my writing as a way,  I believed to be inclusive. However, a few months ago, I started watching how this phrase was used, often erasing Black people, particularly Black women from their accomplishments, challenges, and struggles. In a way for many people to be inclusive of all minorities, they created a phrase that erases minorities. Words matter. Correctly defining someone matters. So much so, that when I pointed out that, “A Nigerian Physician, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye cut a woman baby out her womb at 23 weeks old, successfully operated on the baby after taking out a tumor, then placed the baby back into the woman’s womb & the baby was later delivered naturally after 36 weeks,” according to Black Culture SA was Black excellence, someone was offended that I took note that the doctor was Black.

But the doctor IS Black and what he accomplished was an amazing feat, and as a Black person, I am going to point to that out. But somehow to this person, that is “weird” that I point out Black Excellence.

I believe this is indicative of what happens when we use blanket terms. Suddenly it becomes “wrong” to point out that a Black man is reflecting the epitome of Black excellence. Suddenly it’s “wrong” to notice “color”. Newsflash number one, we ALL know it’s a lie when you say you don’t notice color unless you have some issue with your eyes. If you didn’t notice color, how do you drive? How do you distinguish a green light from a red light? You notice color. AND THAT’S OKAY!I want you to notice my color. What I don’t want is for you to discriminate BECAUSE of my color.Newsflash number two, the day I stop crediting Black people for Black excellence will be the day that I die.

As with anything, there is nothing new under the sun. The term People of Color has been one that circulated throughout the centuries. According to Wikipedia, The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style cites usage of “people of colour” as far back as 1796. It was initially used to refer to light-skinned people of mixed African and European heritage. French colonists used the term gens de couleur (“people of color”) to refer to people of mixed African and European descent who were freed from slavery in the Americas. In South Carolina and other parts of the Deep South, this term was used to distinguish between slaves who were mostly “black” or “negro” and free people who were primarily “mulatto” or “mixed race”. After the American Civil War, “colored” was used as a label exclusively for black Americans, but the term eventually fell out of favor by the mid-20th century.
Although American activist Martin Luther King Jr. used the term “citizens of color” in 1963, the phrase in its current meaning did not catch on until the late 1970s. In the late 20th century, the term “person of color” was introduced in the United States in order to counter the condescension implied by the terms “non-white” and “minority,” and racial justice activists in the U.S., influenced by radical theorists such as Frantz Fanon, popularized it at this time. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was in wide circulation.  Both anti-racist activists and academics sought to move the understanding of race beyond the black-white dichotomy then prevalent.

While the idea of using the phrase People of Color may have people believe they are being inclusive, there are two thoughts that came to mind when I decided to stop using this phrase and stop being called a Person of Color:
1. Erasure When you group things together it tends to erase them. Minorities are not a collective group of people. When you speak to everyone oftentimes you end up speaking to no one. When you mention justice in terms of People of Color, the desires Black people have for justice may be very different than what other minorities want for justice. While minorities may have issues that overlap, we are not one in same. My issues as a Black woman are different than the issue of a Chinese woman and vice versa. And that is okay. It is okay for me to recognize that we are different, to understand her struggle, empathize with her struggle and still have my own. It is too easy for those in positions of power to say, “We need People of Color in the room to cover this story.” Will any “Person of Color” do so that you can say we, “We practice diversity?” Some issues need to involve,  be written about or covered from a specific angle by a person with a specific background. Stop erasing me.
2. Some Minorities are Anti-Black Just because we are minorities does not mean that we view our struggles the same. There are countless videos online of minorities that are anti-Black, minorities that have called Black people the n-word, minorities that have slaughtered innocent Black people with no regard. Just because you are a minority does not mean you understand my struggle as a Black person nor want to contribute anything to assist Black people in our fight for justice. Many minorities will side with a White person if it means they can be near the proximity of Whiteness. This is not a case of minorities being racist because minorities do not have power in a White world. However, many minorities can be anti-Black believing that everything White or close to White is right and everything Black is bad. In a world where I am often battling White racism, I do not have the time, energy or inclination to battle people that should understand injustice.

I have decided that I will no longer use the term Person of Color and I do NOT want to be labeled/called a Person of Color. I am a Black Woman. Before I am anything else, I am Black. When I walk into a room, you may assume my gender. You may assume my sexuality. You may assume I am married. You may even assume that I have children. But one thing that you cannot assume is whether or not I am Black. It is all right there live and in a beautiful shade of melanin, decked out in Fenty 470  and Moscow Mule. I am not a Person of Color. I am a Black Woman.

Acknowledging that, stating that, giving voice to that, giving life to that is essential.

It was not a Person of Color that became that 44th President, it was a Black man named Barack Obama.
It was not a Person of Color that said it, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends,”; it was a Black man named Martin Luther King Jr.
It was not Persons of Color that staged the Birmingham Children’s Crusade; it was young Black youth that stood in the face of police dogs and fire hoses.
It was not a Person of Color that ran for President in 1972; it was an unbought and unbossed Black woman named Shirley Chisholm.
It was not a Person of Color that won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2017; it was a Black woman named Viola Davis.
It was not a Person of Color that designed the carbon filament for the light bulb; it was a Black man named Lewis Latimer.
It was not a Person of Color that improved the circuits to the pacemaker; it was a Black man named Otis Boykin.
It was not Persons of Color that helped launch astronauts into orbit; it was Black women named Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.
It was not a Person of Color that won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2017; it was a Black man named Jordan Peele that was the first Black man to win this award.

The list is endless of Black people that have exuded Black excellence. And it is vital that those achievements not be erased by lumping them in with the vague phrase People of Color. These are Black men, women, and children that drew the blueprint. That left breadcrumbs for Black people coming behind them to believe it was possible because EVERYTHING in this world told Black people it was impossible! 

Every day that I wake up before my feet hit the ground, I understand that I am a Black woman.My fight for justice will always center Black people, and I will not apologize for that. While I am open and willing to fight for many causes, please know the silence of “People Of Color” is often more deafening than White people when it is time to stand up for causes that impact Black people. Either we are in this together, or we are not, and often your actions and rhetoric shows me that Black people fight alone until you need Black people, particularly Black women, to carry your cross.

I am done carrying your burden. This I vow, I will give your cause as much attention, concern, and fight as you give mine.

Please know,
Before I knew that I was a woman, I knew I was Black.
Before I knew that I was bright and intelligent, I knew I was Black.
Before I knew that I wanted to be a writer, I knew I was Black.

And should I ever for some reason only known to God attempt to forget that fact, America, after it has done away with its catchy language, will always remind me.

13 replies »

    • Excellent article. I would like to make one critique though. You stated that some minorities can be anti-black but not racist. That seems like a contradiction to me. Could you explain?

      • Thank you, Miss Independent. I said anti-Black but not racist because here in America no one group besides White people have control of systems that can deny me rights, privileges and benefits in this society. Let’s say hypothetically Mexicans can’t stand me, collectively they do not control any of the systems to oppress me. So them disliking me because I am Black theoretically does nothing to my life. They just don’t like me.

  1. Yes! Now non- Black PoC are just using the term general term of PoC to claim the excellence of Black people, and take credit for stuff we accomplished.

    I’ve actually seen this on Tumblr, where you’re not supposed to mention the actual ethnicity or race of the person, and say something generic, which basically just gives credit to everyone and no one.

    Not only that but a lot of people want to act like the word Black is someone a bad word, not wanting to mention that a person is a black person, and not just online! There are people I know who actually hesitate to cal la person Black in the real world, and I always tell them, it’s not a cuss word. You can say so and so is Black. Wtf!

  2. Now that I have thought about this a bit more…listening to white folk, they have worked their way into that descriptor also. It makes them “feel better” about themselves. You know, “good”. Many of our grandparents were called “free people of colour”. Thank you for giving us something to think about, Hannah.

  3. Thank you for sharing this and opening my eyes to the truth of this phrase. I have never used the term “person of colour” to refer to an individual (as I am much more specific) but I definitely have used the phrase “people of colour” to refer to non-white people. While my intention was to be inclusive, I can absolutely see that it is language that can contribute to erasure and that it could be interpreted as implying a homogeneity that obviously doesn’t exist. I appreciate that there was a disconnect between my intention and the outcome and I will definitely be conscious of this and other language going forward. Thank you as always for a thought provoking post.

  4. Your writing is life to me. All the things I want to say but could not or cannot, find their release in your work. I AM BLACK & that’s truth no matter how anyone feels about it. Praise God for you & your gift.

  5. Hannah, this may sound strange but I have a screenshot from Askimet where they caught spam on my blog & it has russian email addresses. One is in reply to “hannahdrake628”. I’m going to try to put it as the header in my next post, my wordpress is acting up.

  6. “When you speak to everyone oftentimes you end up speaking to no one.” SAY. THAT. People are getting really crafty at speaking over me as a black women and are levelling their own oppressions to do so. NOT here for that.

  7. In my dealings, most minorities from outside America are less than friendly towards Black people. They don’t mind abusing the culture for personal gain, but have no desire to join in the struggle, unless there is a way to gain personally of course. Living overseas for 6 years, I understand why this happens. Media portrays us the same way rappers do. Since they don’t see other examples readily available, they believe the narrative. And we all lose.

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