The Futility of People of Color
As much as I appreciate that “people of color” have experienced discrimination in America, please stop grouping us all together. Since I want to both celebrate diversity and have changes made that end racial inequities, I call on you to not use one term, not make sweeping generalizations about very diverse groups that can and should be broken down into sub-groups, but rather target your interventions to whom you are trying to effect.
The Black experience in America is similar enough that no matter your specific background, you have likely been asked a question by a non-Black person asking you to speak for all Black people, e.g., “Why is Kaepernick ruining football?” or “But don’t you think all lives matter?”; or experienced multiple microaggressions in one day, e.g., “Wow, your hair looks so nice today!” (after you’ve chosen to straighten it); or “You know you got into Columbia because of Affirmative Action, right?”; or experienced heart-racing terror when a police car is sitting behind or next to you at a stop light, even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong but you still can’t help but go over a mental checklist you learned somewhere along your journey of what you could be doing wrong and try to address it casually without drawing attention to yourself; or changed your behavior to make another person feel comfortable, e.g., not worn your BLM shirt around certain people because you aren’t in the mood to explain the obvious and researchable difference between them and a terrorist group; or you crossed a street to try and make a group of women feel more comfortable not having to walk past you; or you take your hoodie off when entering a grocery store because you wearing a mask during COVID-19 may already be seen as a threat or…or…or.
And I’ve not even addressed the discriminatory experiences of other sub-groups that people include in “People of Color”. I get that it’s easier and may be well-intentioned. However, using the broad term People of Color minimizes my uniqueness as a Black woman, my love for Black culture — in all of its facets, and my personal experience of racial injustice and the built-in prejudice against Black people here in my country.
Even within the Black subgroup, I see how hard it is for people to recognize that our experience is collective yet still individual. When people speak about plans or resolutions for Black people living in America, too often, I hear them describe assistance for those who are undereducated, underemployed, and overrepresented in the industrialized slavery system; and there are Black people who can definitely benefit from an acknowledgement that these systems are structurally and purposefully working to continue the enslavement of Black people and thus a direct intervention against that.
At the same time, there are Black people from America and Black people born on every continent in this world who live in America. There are Black people who have matriculated through Ivy League universities; Black people who have not finished high school; Black people who have started successful businesses; Black people who retire from companies with years of great service; Black people who are decision-makers; Black people who come from lower socio-economic statuses; Black people who have inherited wealth; and everything else a human being can be. Regardless of each unique situation, however, most Black people have experienced institutionalized racism (1) and the pressure of living dual lives to survive in America (2).
As a final consideration, there are similarities in the struggles of sub-groups in America, and there may be some solutions that help multiple groups. Concurrently, there are nuances that must not be overlooked if we want to develop solutions that help each of us. Consider this data about the differences in discrimination against “people of color”.
- Between 2004 and 2012, police in New York stopped and frisked about 4.4 million people. The overwhelming majority of those stopped were Black and Latino, and there was documentation that this was a racially-motivated practice. However, breaking that down even further, 50+% of those individuals were Black while 30% were Latino (3).
- There are documented racial disparities in income. Opportunity Insights studied these gaps across generations (4). They found that White Americans have the highest income level overall, and over time, the incomes of Latino and Asian Americans are approaching those of Whites, but those of Black Americans and American Indians are not.
- There is also an overarching incorrect perception that black men are committing crimes. “Even after accounting for differing crime rates and other measures of disorder, researchers have found that the ‘percentage [of] young black men is one of the best predictors of the perceived severity of neighborhood crime.”(5).
- Consider the impact of the recent/current COVID-19 epidemic. The CDC’s website noted that death rates for black/African American people were 92.3 deaths per 100,000 people, Hispanic/Latino rates were 74.3, rates for white persons were 45.2, and rates for Asian people were 34.5 (6).
In sum, I implore you to recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of each person. Our capacity for understanding is not bound to only one experience of “People of Color”. We should learn something about the vastness of each sub-group, particularly in this age of the Internet. And if you decide to do something to acknowledge or address these disparities, target your intervention so that it has an actual impact, and call out your goal specifically.
So yes, all lives matter, so why do we have to say Black Lives Matter?
Is your organization’s million dollar donation to the “community” helping exonerate wrongfully convicted Latina women or build wealth for middle class Black families?
Is your statement of support shining light on the epidemic of trans-Black women being murdered or just a collection of words that make you feel better?
When you understand the answers to these questions, you will know why “People of Color” is no longer a useful term in your vocabulary.
- The Persistence of White Privilege and Institutional Racism in US Policy, 2001; Structural Racism in America, catalog; Systematic Inequality, 2018.
- Maintaining Professionalism in The Age of Black Death is…A Lot, May 2020; The Enduring Lyricism of W.E.B. Du Bois’ ‘The Souls of Black Folk’, 2018.
- Nobody, Marc Lamont Hill, 2016.
- Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective, March 2018.
- Quillian & Pager, 2001; quoted in Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies, Ghandnoosh, 2014.
- COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups, June 2020