Person of color

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The term person of color (alternative spelling: person of colour, plural: people of color, persons of color, sometimes abbreviated POC[1]) is used primarily in the United States and Canada to describe any person who is not white. The term encompasses all non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of systemic racism.[2][3] The term is not equivalent in use to "colored", which was previously used in the US as a term for African Americans only.

People of color was revived from a term based in the French colonial era in the Caribbean and La Louisiane in North America: gens de couleur libres applied generally to people of mixed African and European descent who were freed from slavery or born into freedom. In the late 20th century, it was introduced in the United States 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.[4] Style guides for writing from the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style,[5] the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[6] Mount Holyoke College,[7] 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-Caucasian heritage.[8]


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."[9] 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.[10][11] Racial justice activists in the U.S., influenced by radical theorists such as Frantz Fanon, popularized it at this time. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was in wide circulation.[12] Both anti-racist activists and academics sought to move understandings of race beyond the black-white binary then prevalent.[13]

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".[14] 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.[15]

Use of the term person of color, especially in the United States, is often associated with the social justice movement.[16]

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. ^ 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." 
  5. ^ The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2005. p. 319. 
  6. ^ "Stanford Graduate School of Business Writing and Editing Style Guide" (PDF). Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  7. ^ Mount Holyoke College. "Editorial Style Guide". Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Houghton Mifflin Company (2005). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 356. 
  9. ^ Powers, Bernard. Black Charlestonians: a Social History 1822-1885. University of Arkansas Press, 1994
  10. ^ William Safire (November 20, 1988). "On language: People of color". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  11. ^ "The Black Press at 150", editorial, The Washington Post, March 18, 1977
  12. ^ Rinku Sen. "Are Immigrants and Refugees People of Color?". ColorLines. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 
  13. ^ Elizabeth Martinez (May 1994). "Seeing More Than Black & White". Z Magazine. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  14. ^ Zack, Naomi. American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity, 1995
  15. ^ Tuman, Joseph S. (2003). Communicating terror. SAGE,. ISBN 978-0-7619-2765-5. 
  16. ^ 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.