Person of color

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The term person of color (plural: people of color, persons of color; sometimes abbreviated POC)[1] is used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. The term encompasses all non-white peoples, emphasizing common experiences of systemic racism.[2][3] The term may also be used with other collective categories of people such as communities of color, men of color, and women of color.[4] The term is not equivalent in use to the term colored, which was previously used in the United States to refer to African Americans only.


The term people of colour is first cited in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1796, and, like colored, it was originally used in reference to people of mixed African and European descent.[4] 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.[5] 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".[6] 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.[4]

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.[7][8] 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,[9] and racial justice activists in the U.S., influenced by radical theorists such as Frantz Fanon, popularized it at this time.[10] 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. 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.[13]

Use of the term person of color, especially in the United States, is often associated with the social justice movement.[14] Style guides from the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style,[15] the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[16] and Mount Holyoke College[17] all recommend the term person of color over other alternatives. Unlike colored, which refers only to blacks 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".[4]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ a b c d Houghton Mifflin Company (2005). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (PDF). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 356. 
  5. ^ Brickhouse, Anna (2009). Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere. Cambridge University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0521101011. 
  6. ^ Powers, Bernard. Black Charlestonians: a Social History 1822-1885. University of Arkansas Press, 1994
  7. ^ William Safire (November 20, 1988). "On language: People of color". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  8. ^ "The Black Press at 150", editorial, The Washington Post, March 18, 1977
  9. ^ 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." 
  10. ^ a b 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. ^ Tuman, Joseph S. (2003). Communicating terror. SAGE,. ISBN 978-0-7619-2765-5. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 319
  16. ^ "Stanford Graduate School of Business Writing and Editing Style Guide" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 September 2016. Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  17. ^ Mount Holyoke College. "Editorial Style Guide". Retrieved 18 September 2010.