Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A white man's useless opinions on the phrase "person of colour"

(Originally published 6/25/14)

I was reading Jezebel  yesterday and I came across this terrible, tragic story:

Trans Woman of Color Murdered, Set on Fire, Then Dumped in Trash

It's sad, just as sad as any murder of someone who didn't deserve it. The tone of the article supposes that it was a hate crime, and the author takes the police to task for assuming it's not. I have no opinion on that either way, seeing as I have literally zero evidence for either side.

But something rubbed me the wrong way: the use of the phrase "woman of colour" to denote a black woman. It just seems... more offensive?

Sidebar #1: I'm usually the first to cry foul when people start getting offended on behalf of minorities when the minorities really don't give a shit.


Sidebar #2: I know that my opinion will be instantly dismissed by many because I'm a white man of privilege. But anyone with a modicum of common sense will at least hear me out, and understand that I'm not demanding that everyone change what they're saying, just that they think about whether they're actually being respectful or not when talking about non-whites.

I see white people use "person of colour" a lot when they're trying to show us how sensitive they are, and it's always made me cringe but until now I didn't know why. I figured it out: it's really just saying "non-white". It's that simple. Take a step back and think about who "person of colour" encompasses: blacks, asians, browns, natives (am I even allowed to say these words?). So when you say "person of colour" you're essentially saying "a non-white person". By specifically calling out the fact that they're not white, you're insinuating that they're an aberration from the norm.

I'm white. I'm proud of being white, and I like being white. I'm sure that all other things being equal, if I were black, I'd be proud of my blackness. It's just about liking who you are and where you came from. If I were black, I'm pretty sure I'd be annoyed by the term "person of colour" because it strips away the pride I take in my identity by saying "Sure you're black technicially, but in my eyes, you're actually just something other than white".

Let's all remember that back in the old days, our grandparents were using terms like "coloured" until it was decided that "negro" was more suitable.  This was followed by "black" and then "African American" and now, apparently "person of colour". So, full circle?

Incidentally, I used to take issue with the term "African American". To me it seemed like only white people used it, and that it really said "American*" and then in the footnotes (*but not fully American, just one that lives here but remember, your ancestors came from Africa so you're different). However, it turns out that my taking offense on the part of black African Americans is moot because historically, they're fine with either term. Still, I'd be curious to know their thoughts about "person of colour".

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