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 or 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.
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.