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The Problem With the Term ‘People of Color’

‘People of Color,’ or PoC, is a term that has become somewhat of a buzzword of late, appearing in many publications, from the Huffington Post to Politico. Racism nowadays is typically characterized in physical terms, as we forget that language contains micro-aggressions that we must be careful of. Though users of the title may utilize it to spread a positive message, the term ‘people of color’ itself is somewhat misleading.

“People of Color’ suggests that we are a faceless nation of identical people, which we most definitely are not. More importantly, it does not convey the individuality of our struggles: the Asian community does not face racism and discrimination in the same way the Black community does, and the same rings true for other groups. Oppression is not a “one-size-fits-all” T-shirt; though we may all fit inside it, it doesn’t exactly fit us well.

Challenging repressive language is no easy feat, but it is something that must be done in order to pave the way for conversations that can and will build bridges that will go a long way towards healing the communities affected. There are some cases in which it is acceptable to have all people of color under one umbrella, but otherwise, one must be careful about running the risk of erasure. By mentioning a community by name, their problems are clearly highlighted and brought to public awareness. It is then easier for allies to help combat racism and xenophobia as they will have a better idea of what to look out for.

It is also important to mention that the term ‘people of color’ can also make collective communities color blind to their own faults. For example, it gives communities such as my own, the Desi community, the license to ignore rampant anti-Blackness. For some young Desi activists that I have interacted with, it has also tinged the way they approach their activism: they expected Black activists to campaign alongside them, yet they hesitated when asked if they had participated in any Black Lives Matter protests. It gives communities that are not so visibly ‘othered’ the opportunity to uphold institutionalized colorism. It also blinds non-black communities of color to their privilege.

We must make clear distinctions if we are to recognize the inter-community violence that is ingrained within our respective cultures. This will not only make us better allies, but will also improve our activism. Recognizing racial nuances is essential in the ongoing conversation about race, and will serve to include those who otherwise would be excluded from the table.

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