- This article is about a term used for black African-Americans. For the term used for an ethnic group in Southern Africa, see Coloured. For other uses, see Color (disambiguation). For the dc Talk song, see Colored People (song).
Colored is a term that was formerly used in the United States to refer to black people (i.e., persons of sub-Saharan African ancestry; members of the black race). According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word colored was first used in the 14th Century.
In other English-speaking countries, the term has varied meanings. In South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the term Coloured refers both to a specific ethnic group of complex mixed origins, which is considered neither black nor white, and in other contexts to people of mixed race; in neither context is its usage considered derogatory. In British usage, the term refers to "a person who is wholly or partly of non-white descent" and its use may be regarded as antiquated or offensive, and other terms are preferable, particularly when referring to a single ethnicity.
History in America
The term colored appeared in North America during the colonial era. In 1851 an article in the New York Times referred to the "colored population". In 1863, the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops. The first 12 Census counts in the U.S. enumerated '"colored" people, who totaled nine million in 1900. The Census counts of 1910–1960 enumerated "negroes."
"It’s no disgrace to be colored," the black entertainer Bert Williams famously observed early in the century, "but it is awfully inconvenient."
"Colored people lived in three neighborhoods that were clearly demarcated, as if by ropes or turnstiles,” writes Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about growing up in segregated West Virginia in the 1960s. "Welcome to the Colored Zone, a large stretched banner could have said... Of course, the colored world was not so much a neighborhood as a condition of existence."
"For most of my childhood, we couldn’t eat in restaurants or sleep in hotels, we couldn’t use certain bathrooms or try on clothes in stores," recalls Gates. His mother retaliated by not buying clothes she was not allowed to try on. He remembered hearing a white man deliberately calling his father by the wrong name. "'He knows my name, boy,' my father said after a long pause. 'He calls all colored people George.'" When Gates' female cousin became the first black cheerleader at the local high school, she was not allowed to sit with the team in a Naugahyde booth and drink Coke from a glass, but had to stand at the counter drinking from a paper cup. Prof. Gates also wrote about his experiences in his 1995 book, Colored People: A Memoir.
Today colored is generally no longer regarded as a politically correct term. It lives on in the association name National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, generally called just NAACP.
In 2008 Carla Sims, communications director for the NAACP in Washington, D.C., said "the term 'colored' is not derogatory, [the NAACP] chose the word 'colored' because it was the most positive description commonly used [in 1909, when the association was founded]. It's outdated and antiquated but not offensive."
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- "In Britain it was the accepted term until the 1960s, when it was superseded (as in the US) by black. The term coloured lost favour among black people during this period and is now widely regarded as offensive except in historical contexts.""coloured". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- "Is the word 'coloured' offensive?". BBC News Magazine. 9 November 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2012. "In times when commentators say the term is widely perceived as offensive, a Labour MP lost no time in condemning it 'patronising and derogatory'."
- New York Times. September 18, 1851. p. 3.
- Neilly, Herbert L., Black Pride: The Philosophy and Opinions of Black Nationalism: A Six-Volume History of Black Culture in Two Parts, (AuthorHouse, 2005), ISBN 1418416657, page 237.
- Gates Jr., Henry Louis, "Growing Up Colored," American Heritage Magazine, Summer 2012, Volume 62, Issue 2.
- Gates, op. cit.
- Gates Jr., Henry Louis, Colored People: A Memoir, (Vintage, 1995), ISBN 067973919X.
- "NAACP says no big deal". Mercury News.