Person of color

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Person of color (plural: people of color, persons of color, sometimes informally abbreviated POC) is a term used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. The term encompasses all non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. The term is not equivalent in use to "colored", previously used in the US as a term for African Americans only.

People of color was introduced as a preferable replacement to both non-white and minority, which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; non-white defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and minority frequently carries a subordinate connotation.[1] Style guides for writing from American Heritage,[2] the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[3] Mount Holyoke College,[4] recommend the term over these alternatives. It may also be used with other collective categories of people such as students of color, men of color and women of color. Person of color typically refers to individuals of non-European heritage.[5]

The untranslated English term has also seen some limited usage among Germans of color, especially when stressing the postcolonial perspective,[6] but so far has not found entrance into general German language and is not necessarily known by the general populace.


The term "free person of color" (f.p.c.) was used alongside "free colored" in the US census to describe people of partial or full African ancestry who were not slaves, from 1790 until 1860. 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.".[7] Though 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.[8][9] Racial justice activists in the U.S. influenced by radical theorists like Frantz Fanon popularized it at this time. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was in wide circulation.[10] Both anti-racist activists and academics sought to move understandings of race beyond the black-white binary then prevalent.[11]

Political significance[edit]

According to Stephen Saris, in the United States there are two big racial divides. "First, there is the black–white kind, which is basically anti-black". The second racial divide is the one "between whites and everyone else" with whites being "narrowly construed" and everyone else being called "people of color".[12] 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. It acts as "a recognition that certain people are racialized" and serves to emphasize "the importance of coalition" by "making connections between the ways different 'people of color' are racialized."[13] As Joseph Truman argues, the term people of color is attractive because it unites disparate racial and ethnic groups into a larger collective in solidarity with one another.[14]

Furthermore, the term persons of color has been embraced and used to replace the term minority because the term minority could, but not necessarily according to proper context, imply inferiority and disfranchisement.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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." 
  2. ^ The American Heritage guide to contemporary usage and style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2005. p. 319. 
  3. ^ "Stanford Graduate School of Business Writing and Editing Style Guide". Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Mount Holyoke College. "Editorial Style Guide". Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  5. ^ Houghton Mifflin Company (2005). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 356. 
  6. ^ Kien Nghi Ha, Nicola Lauré al-Samarai, Sheila Mysorekar (Hg.) (2007): re/visionen. Postkoloniale Perspektiven von People of Color auf Rassismus, Kulturpolitik und Widerstand in Deutschland. Unrast Verlag, Münster. ISBN 978-3-89771-458-8
  7. ^ Powers, Bernard Black Charlestonians: a Social History 1822-1885. University of Arkansas Press, 1994
  8. ^ William Safire (November 20, 1988). "On language: People of color". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  9. ^ "The Black Press at 150", editorial, The Washington Post, March 18, 1977
  10. ^ Rinku Sen. "Are Immigrants and Refugees People of Color?". ColorLines. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  11. ^ Elizabeth Martinez (May 1994). "Seeing More Than Black & White". Z Magazine. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  12. ^ Zack, Naomi. American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity, 1995
  13. ^ Sara Koopman (December 12, 2007). "people of color". Blogger. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  14. ^ Tuman, Joseph S. (2003). Communicating terror. SAGE,. ISBN 978-0-7619-2765-5. 
  15. ^ "Real Definitions". Colours of Resistance. Retrieved 2008-03-21.