Person of color

The term "person of color" (plural: people of color, persons of color; sometimes abbreviated POC)[1] is today primarily used in the United States to describe any person who is not considered white, including in various points in US history, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans[2] and others. The term emphasizes common experiences of systemic racism.[3][4] The term may also be used with other collective categories of people such as "communities of color", "men of color" (MOC), and "women of color" (WOC).[5] The term "colored" was originally equivalent in use to the term person of color, but usage of the appellation "colored" in the Southern United States gradually came to be restricted to "negroes",[6] and is now considered a racial pejorative.[7]


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.[5] 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.[8] 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".[9] 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.[5]

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.[10][11] 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",[12] and racial justice activists in the U.S., influenced by radical theorists such as Frantz Fanon, popularized it at this time.[13] By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was in wide circulation.[13] Both anti-racist activists and academics sought to move the understanding of race beyond the black-white dichotomy then prevalent.[14]

The phrase "women of color" was developed and introduced for wide use by a group of black women activists at the National Women's Conference in 1977.[15] The phrase was used as a method of communicating solidarity between non-white women that was, according to Loretta Ross, not based on "biological destiny" but instead a political act of naming themselves.[15]

Political significance

According to Stephen Saris, in the United States there are two main racial divides. The first is the "black–white" delineation. The second racial delineation is the one "between whites and everyone else" with whites being "narrowly construed" and everyone else being called "people of color".[16] Because the term "people of color" includes vastly different people with only the common distinction of not being white, it draws attention to the fundamental role of racialization in the United States. Joseph Tuman argues that the term "people of color" is attractive because it unites disparate racial and ethnic groups into a larger collective in solidarity with one another.[17]

Use of the term "person of color", especially in the United States, is often associated with the social justice movement.[18] Style guides from the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style,[19] the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[20] and Mount Holyoke College[21] all recommend the term "person of color" over other alternatives. Unlike "colored", which refers only to black people and is often considered offensive, "person of color" and its variants refer inclusively to all non-European peoples—often with the notion that there is political solidarity among them—and "are virtually always considered terms of pride and respect."[5]


Many critics, both whites and non-whites, of the term object to its lack of specificity and find the phrase racially offensive.[22] It has been argued that the term lessens the focus on individual issues facing different racial and ethnic groups. [23] Several people, both whites and non-whites have compared it to the terms "Colored" and "Negro".

See also


  1. Jackson, Yo (2006). Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. p. 77. ISBN 9781412909488. For example, the person of color (POC) racial identity model describes racial identity development for people of color...
  2. Astor, Maggie (2019-12-10). "Andrew Yang Qualifies for December Democratic Debate". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-11.
  3. Franklin, Anderson J.; Boyd-Franklin, Nancy; Kelly, Shalonda (2006). "Racism and Invisibility". Journal of Emotional Abuse. 6 (2–3): 9–30. doi:10.1300/J135v06n02_02. ISSN 1092-6798.
  4. Alvin N. Alvarez; Helen A. Neville (1 March 2016). The Cost of Racism for People of Color: Contextualizing Experiences of Discrimination. Amer Psychological Assn. ISBN 978-1-4338-2095-3.
  5. Houghton Mifflin Company (2005). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (PDF). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 356.
  6. Trigger, Bruce G. (1978). Northeast. Smithsonian Institution. p. 290. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  7. Butterly, Amelia (2015-01-27). "Warning: Why using the term 'coloured' is offensive". BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  8. Brickhouse, Anna (2009). Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere. Cambridge University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0521101011.
  9. Powers, Bernard. Black Charlestonians: a Social History 1822-1885. University of Arkansas Press, 1994
  10. William Safire (November 20, 1988). "On language: People of color". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  11. "The Black Press at 150", editorial, The Washington Post, March 18, 1977
  12. Christine Clark, Teja Arboleda (1999). Teacher's Guide for in the Shadow of Race: Growing Up As a Multiethnic, Multicultural, and "Multiracial" American. Routledge. p. 17. The term People of Color emerged in reaction to the terms "non-white" and "minority." … The term people of color attempts to counter the condescension implied in the other two."
  13. Rinku Sen (2007-07-10). "Are Immigrants and Refugees People of Color?". ColorLines. Retrieved 2008-12-08.
  14. Elizabeth Martinez (May 1994). "Seeing More Than Black & White". Z Magazine. Retrieved 2008-06-27.
  15. Wade, Lisa. "Loretta Ross on the Phrase "Women of Color"". Sociological Images. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  16. Zack, Naomi (1995). American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0847680139. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  17. Tuman, Joseph S. (2003). Communicating terror. SAGE. ISBN 978-0-7619-2765-5.
  18. Maurianne Adams; Lee Anne Bell; Pat Griffin (1997). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Psychology Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-415-91057-6.
  19. Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 319
  20. "Stanford Graduate School of Business Writing and Editing Style Guide" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 September 2016. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  21. Mount Holyoke College. "Editorial Style Guide". Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  22. Adebola Lamuye (31 July 2017). "I am no 'person of colour', I am a black African woman". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  23. "As a black woman, I hate the term 'people of colour'". 2018-04-22.
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