Three Ideas on “People of Color”

In an effort to provide some grounding material for the new Students of Color group starting at Harvard Divinity School, I prepared the following short synoposis of the term People of Color from three sources:

Western States Center: People of color’ is not a term that refers to a real biological or scientific distinction between people. People of color in the U.S. share the common experience of being targeted and oppressed by racism. Unfortunately, one of the ways racism operates is to keep people of color divided. Many people only think about their specific ethnic or racial group when discussing oppression or the need to build political power.  By using the term people of color, we begin to push people to think more broadly. We need to build relationships with other groups of color.  The term people of color has movement-building potential.  Check out their Resources Page for this and other PDF’s.

DRUUMM (Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries: A UU People of Color Organization):

As People of Color* mobilized in an anti-racist collective, we unite to:

Work for self-determination, justice and equal opportunity,
Empower our various ministries,
Celebrate our diverse heritages,
Overcome racism through resistance,
Transform and enrich Unitarian Universalism through our multicultural experiences.

* The United States is a race based society made up of a dominant
White group and several other racially defined groups which have been
and continue to be oppressed in specific ways. While race is a social
construct created by the dominant White group to oppress and exclude
the other groups from the power and resources of the society, race has
also been used by oppressed peoples to build group solidarity and a
culture of survival and resistance.

Racism has also created barriers which separate oppressed groups
from one another. While each oppressed group is affected by racism
differently and each group maintains its own unique identity and
culture, there is also the recognition that racism has the potential to
unite oppressed people in a collective of resistance. For this reason,
many individuals who identify as members of racially oppressed groups,
also claim the political identity of being People of Color.  This in no
way diminishes their specific cultural or racial identity, rather it is
an affirmation of the multiple layers of identity of every individual.

Joseph Santos-Lyons: People of Color:
(1) Self-identify as…primarily with one or
more racial/ethnic groups that are not of European/White descent.
Persons may well identify strongly with their European/White descent
heritage, but must also equally identify with a non-European/White
minority. I personally don’t like the term "minority" or being
(2) Seen as, in part, as a Person of Color by society.
This extends beyond shallow skin color to being connected to cultural
practices, language, shared resistance against oppression, active
solidarity with other Persons of Color, and consciousness in our
vocabulary about the effect of White Privilege and White Supremacy on
Communities of Color.
(3) Live as, in part, a Person of Color in the
larger world. This also extends beyond skin tones to our own choices
related to strengthening ourselves against White Supremacy, supporting
other Persons of Color in need, and being in relationships of
accountability with Communities of Color, both specific to our
racial/cultural heritage and wider efforts to unite disparate Peoples
of Color.


2 responses to “Three Ideas on “People of Color”

  1. You know, I’ve had a lot of internal problems with the term person of color, which I have come to grips with. My problems stem from being raised here in Willow Run Michigan, with the largest branch of the NAACP in the United States, and that branches (Ypsilanti/Willow Run) complete dismissal of the term person of color. The mostly older, grey haired women that run the place will run you out of town for using the term.

    One time what I was explaining this to someone they asked if the local branch she was a mix of races, which it is, and which I would hope, living in an area that borders the highest concentration of those of middle eastern decent in the US, a repsectable asian population (although mostly in Ann Arbor), etc.

    Local oddity I’m sure, but it puts into perspective how ones ideas change according to nuture.

  2. Interesting point Donald. Definitely the growing presence of the term POC as a political term is something that needs to be taken in that context – movement building.

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