(Author’s Note: Before you fret…I know, I know! Not all People of Color... Sigh!)
On Using The Term Black vs. People of Color
There has been a silent debate going on in the Black community for years in our homes, on social media, and quietly in Black intellectual circles about the term “People of Color”(POC), and how America loves to lump us together. The term POC dilutes Black and Brown cultures and disregards ethnic and national identities. For Black people, there is something more sinister happening — we’re being erased and our history has forgotten. Using the term People of Color to describe non-White people in America is racial erasure, and I won’t engage in the practice anymore.
We are not freaking crayon colors!
I have struggled with using the term POC for a few years for a variety of reasons. For one, in my personal and professional life, I don’t see “People of Color” coming to our communities to help Black people, especially in the South. I see lots of Blacks and People of Color striving to attain success in accordance with the standards of American Anglo-Whiteness. I see the good and the harm in our aspirations.
But many People of Color are very different for a few key reasons. Most POC only come to our communities for one of two reasons — lucrative business opportunities, or they are poor and must live among us because they can’t afford to live elsewhere. The relationships with Blacks and People of Color are complicated.
Yes, “People of Color” may come into Black communities to set up businesses and profit from us like other American businesses, but People of Color are not fully vested in our communities, nor do they seem interested in combining forces to combat the same White Supremacy that discriminates against us all. And let’s not talk about certain POC not giving back to the communities that feed them.
Instead, many People of Color come to America and assimilate, turning their backs on the very Black people who made it possible for them to be here. What a way to repay Blacks who paved the way for them?
Let The Blacks Fight Their Own Battles
Black people have been the mules of America since we arrived on slave ships. We’ve always had to fight not only for our own freedom and civil rights, but we’ve also been expected to fight for other minority and ethnic groups (i.e. White women). I’m all for fighting inequality and inequity, but not at my expense anymore. I am not my grandmother’s generation of Black. I’m also not interested in fighting discrimination and inequity for People of Color who are silent when the Black community fights and speaks. Physical representation matters. Actions matter. Alliances matter. Their silence speaks volumes.
Read: The Civil Rights Act of 1957
Take the debate on the border and immigration for instance. Trump has made low-wage earning foreign Black and Brown people the new-old enemy America. And while there have been a host of People of Color people hailing from “shit hole,” barred from entering the country or banned from seeking refuge/asylum in America, the focus has been on Mexicans and South American People of Color seeking asylum. Many of these POC don’t like us, and they even call Blacks derogatory names. Too many fair-skinned POC bring their Afro-racist views from their own countries. They may look like us, but they aren’t one of us.
American Blacks recognize oppression and we have stepped up to aid our fellow People of Color at the border being mistreated in the name of White Supremacy. We know what America has in store for them, and like good Americans, we fight the good fight. But our help isn’t always wanted, in fact, it’s often a thankless job. Certain groups want to fight alone, understanding Black in America is the least desired race in the nation.
For instance, the Spanish-speaking community has a history of not wanting to fight White Supremacy, racial discrimination, systemic oppression with Blacks. During the pre-Civil Rights Era, Felix Tijerina, a Mexican civil rights activist and former national President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said, “Let the Negro fight his own battles,” reflecting a segregationist attitude among Tijerina and the Latin American population here in America in 1957. These People of Color had no desire to work with us, instead, they carried the racist waters of White Supremacy, engaging in the same racially discriminatory practices they fought against. Many People of Color hold these racist ideologies. We just don’t like to talk about them.
Thanks to Donald Trump, the cat is out of the bag. People of Color are making their feelings know, and there are plenty of POC who still hold this racist ideology.
Lumping us all together is good for no one.
Placing all Black and Brown people in one category regardless of culture, race, nationality, and ethnicity allows Whiteness to disregard the diversity among us. Many non-Black People of Color here in America dislike Black people because we are America’s number one punching bag. No matter where immigrants come from in the world, they fully understand it’s not acceptable to be Black, to fellowship with Blacks, live among Blacks, or help Blacks.
They fear the difficulties we’ve endured and still endure. Instead of risking such punishment, they join our bullies, choosing to engage in harmful practices that keep Blacks oppressed, which led me to the conclusion that Blacks shouldn’t be lumped in with People of Color.
Black people in America are a uniquely oppressed and discriminated against group, and our concerns are not the same as other groups.
People of Color Can Conveniently Turn White
Many non-Black People of Color in America can check the “White/Caucasian/European” box when needed to identify their ethnicity for a variety of opportunities (i.e. employment). Doing so gives certain People of Color (i.e. Jewish POC) many of the privileges and benefits that come with being White in America. These chameleons get to be a minority when it suits them, and White when it doesn’t.
Blacks who can’t pass as White don’t get that luxury.
The other caveat to POC conveniently turning White is that it means many POC must also take part in Black oppression. Seeing it happen makes me uncomfortable and at times helpless. But when Blacks try to speak on it, we are called racists, and those calling us racist choose to ignore a serious problem. I don’t want to include myself under the POC umbrella because it erases Blacks, and it overlooks the racism and discrimination that happens to Blacks by People of Color. Some People of Color can be very unhelpful and some cases downright problematic for Blacks.
Using People of Color Erases Nationalities and Cultures
Another reason I won’t be using POC anymore is that many People of Color desire to represent their nationality. Some POC doesn’t have a melting pot mentality, they instead have dual alliances. I’m not saying that it’s wrong, or it’s right, just that it is so. For Blacks, we are American and our allegiance is to America.
Some Afro-Latinos want to claim their country’s origin. They don’t want to be forced into a color, especially when doing so forces them to be lumped into something they believe is bad. Some Africans even get in on the White Supremacy practices by acting as if Black Americans are inferior to them despite us all being impacted by the same colonial masters. I get it, which is why I prefer separating Black people from American otherness. We’ve all been erased enough already.
Being called a POC just doesn’t feel good to a lot of Blacks anymore, especially in the age of Trump. The racism of old has come out of the closet and I want to acknowledge that Black feelings and pain are valid. We matter. I understand the nuances of the various communities, and I don’t want to pretend all is well with us coloreds.
The micro and macro-aggressions we Blacks experience by Whites and People of Color are real. We give and forgive like no other group, yet we are always the sacrificial lambs and footstools for other groups seeking to make a living and live in peace in America. Blacks fight, but People of Color benefit more from the fights.
Not only do POC benefit from our oppression, some ever help keep us oppressed in order to maintain their places in society by becoming tools of White Supremacy. White Supremacy is a hell of a drug.
Blacks Are Tired of Being Erased
Black people are getting tired of carrying People of Color on their shoulders only to be slapped down and discriminated against by the very people we are grouped with. I live in South Florida, where there is a powerful Latin population with no interest in sharing the power they accrued thanks to our efforts. It’s time Blacks practice a little self-care and protectionism like other minority ethnic groups. Why should we always be the ones responsible for coalition-building? Why are we expected to get to the back of the line and wait every time, allowing other ethnic groups to go before us without putting in the work?
When we (Black people) use People of Color, we erase Black issues, Black struggle, Black history, Black wins, and our Black rights collectively. With the rise in White Supremacy and White Nationalism, Black people can no longer afford to forget how far we come, nor can we afford to be forgotten.
We can no longer afford to help people who don’t give a shit about us.
I’m all for helping other oppressed ethnic groups, but not at the expense of Black people anymore. We deserve our own legislation that addresses discrimination specifically against Blacks, including discrimination against Blacks by People of Color and by White people. Blacks should be allowed to create agendas that don’t focus on other ethnic groups. When other People of Color create political agendas, no one has anything to say about it, and there is no expectation they include other minority groups (Blacks) in their agenda. Blacks don’t have the same luxury.
People of Color and Black people aren’t the same. We don’t have the same issues. We don’t always have the same needs and wants, and we don’t all have the same interests collectively as minorities. Most importantly, many POC doesn’t respect Blacks or our invaluable contributions to civil rights and American society.
All skin folks aren’t kinfolks, and I’m no longer pretending they all are. Black people are not the same as People of Color, and most People of Color do not want to be grouped with Blacks. Let’s get away from grouping people for convenience. All it does is water down their issues and petitions. A breakup is happening in the Black community, and I totally understand it.
No longer will I force a relationship with POC who don’t understand how nuanced our communities are, and I’m no longer insisting on forcing Blacks to befriend People of Color who are only interested in using us as a financial means to an end. The People of Color who buy into America’s White Supremacy mindset see Blacks as a piece of comparative data to measure their aspirations, goals, and successes by, without delving into the history of institutional racism and systemic oppression Whites and People of Color alike engage in to make their successes possible. Not all People of Color think this way, but enough of them do.
If we Blacks are going to be unceremoniously used as America’s mules, and sturdy, reliable stepping stones for Whites and People of Color, at least put some respect on our color or ethnic group. We deserve it. From now on for me, when writing about non-Whites in America, it’s going to be Blacks and People of Color.
It’s a matter of love, respect, reverence for my own racial group without any hesitancy, animosity, jealousy, or fear. I’m Black, and I’m proud.
This essay was inspired by a Twitter conversation and previous conversations by Breaking Brown on race and People of Color and how they all know even before coming to America being Black is bad for their upward mobility, so they conveniently learn how to not see race.
©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved.