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Exploring social terms: People of Colour

  • Exploring social terms: People of Colour

The following blog post was written by Tahira Ebrahim, Centre Liaison Officer at the School of Global Access.

Why are terms important?  Language reflects social values and allows individuals of different lived experiences to understand each other. "Changes in the words and phrases we use to describe each other reflect whatever progress we make on the path toward a world where everyone feels respected and included" (Malesky, 2014). 

The term "people of colour", which was initially used in social justice forums and political venues, has now reached mainstream consciousness and is accessed in both academic and social media realms. Although widely accepted, the term is also rejected by individuals who deem it to conceal the varied forms of systemic discrimination, which differs, critically so, between different groups.  

"Lumping all groups who are not classified as white or who speak English as a second language under one term (People of Color) ignores the very specific, central, multi-generational role and continuing impact" (BRJA, 2018) of targeted oppression. At the same time, the term "diminishes the separate histories and stories of individual groups" (BRJA, 2018), which speaks to their respective realities.  

Creating terms that distinguish groups from another can create conceptual distance between groups, limiting the opportunity to identify with each other. 

For others, the term highlights and reminds society of the existence of a"racialized social and cultural hierarchy" (Moses, 2016).  

So what does this mean? Is the term appropriate to use? The reality is that all people are people of colour. Creating terms that distinguish groups from another can create conceptual distance between groups, limiting the opportunity to identify with each other. The term, while an indicator of distinct experiences with systems that are separate from communities that hold privilege, limits an understanding of how those experiences differ from one another and therefore prevents accurate and relevant responses to address inequities for specific communities.  

While the term may be used as a starting point to understand a distinction between individuals who experience privilege and can exercise power and those who cannot, by virtue of their perceived ethnicity, engaging with individuals and communities and understanding their specific histories and realities within systems will allow more acute terms and descriptions to be used when discussing issues of inclusion.

References

Baltimore Racial Justice Action. (n.d.). About "People of Color". Retrieved from http://bmoreantiracist.org/people-of-color/about-people-of-color/

Malesky, K. (2014, March 31). The Journey From 'Colored' To 'Minorities' To 'People Of Color'. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/03/30/295931070/the-journey-from-colored-to-minorities-to-people-of-color

Moses, Y., Jones, N., & Coates, K. (2016, December 7). Is the Term "People of Color" Acceptable in this Day and Age? Retrieved from https://www.sapiens.org/column/race/people-of-color/

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