In light of the recent backlash surrounding my article on the engagement of Serena Williams and Alexi Ohanian I started to explore a term that was repeated over and over. People have said to me that I should be okay with Serena marrying Ohanian because he is a ‘person of color’. The more that term was repeated to me the more I laughed. How dare someone call me a racist while standing up for the rights of a ‘person of color’.
There is no such thing as a person of color. ‘Person of color’ is a white elitist term used since the late 1700’s to signify that someone wasn’t white enough. Centuries before all this politically correct craziness people try to claim, ‘people of color’ was used to reference someone of mixed African and European heritage. We all have a nationality we are not ‘of color.’
Before the age of exploration, group differences were largely based on language, religion, and geography. … the European [sic] had always reacted a bit hysterically to the differences of skin color and facial structure between themselves and the populations encountered in Africa, Asia, and the Americas (see, for example, Shakespeare’s dramatization of racial conflict in Othello and The Tempest). Beginning in the 1500s, Europeans began to develop what became known as “scientific racism,” the attempt to construct a biological rather than cultural definition of race … Whiteness, then, emerged as what we now call a “pan-ethnic” category, as a way of merging a variety of European ethnic populations into a single “race” …
— Gregory Jay, “Who Invented White People?”
White people as a race came bout only as slavery became racialized, which it had not always been.
Truth hurts and no one likes to be called out on their bullsh#t. My article on interracial dating hit home and bothered many because it’s hard to ignore the history. Knowing the history, if you play into the game without demanding the rules change, you’re just furthering the destruction.
You must remember at one point the white American first settlers had all the power in this land. A later immigrant was no different than a freed slave in many ways. Land was king, either you had your own or you worked on someone else’s. Furthermore, only landowners with a certain amount of land were allowed to vote or hold office. This was a class issue centuries ago and still is.
Back to this term people would have preferred I used. Over the years, politicians have used a multitude of code words and phrases to enact racist policies. In the 7o’s it became no longer acceptable to call people terms like “mulatto” and by the late 70’s the term ‘people of color’ was being introduced back into the English language. Politicians, news commentators, police, and the like all had to start using this new term as even the words minority and non-white began to cause dissension among newly allowed Black, immigrant, and mixed heritage voters.
I can recall in my early 20’s job hunting and constantly seeing the racial boxes to check off; always white or Caucasian on the first line, Black was a given to be on the list, then it would say Asian, Hispanic and Non-White. I used to constantly wonder what non-white was. It would literally take more than the term “person of color’ to make me understand just how screwed up many people of European descent are. The hate within is so ingrained that many don’t even know it’s there. It’s just how they’ve been raised.
“The English language seems to lump the colors together and treats white—the noncolor—as a race and a word apart,” wrote New York Times language columnist William Safire in 1988. “It strikes me, then, that people of color is a phrase often used by non-whites to put non-white positively. (Why should anybody want to define himself by what he is not?) Politically, it expresses solidarity with other non-whites, and subtly reminds whites that they are a minority.”
I recently read the most amazing book, for the first time I saw the average every day white person in America as a victim of American imperialism. The book, Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat in America From Mayflower to Modern by J. Sakai. It’s literally mind boggling the history you don’t learn in school. The book made me understand why Donald trump won the election. He spoke the right words to the right people. When he kept calling the white middle class people, the forgotten Americans I didn’t get it. Reading this book directly after the election cleared it all up. I suggest you get a copy.
I, like many, thought America had a race problem. We don’t, we never have had a race problem, what we have is a class problem. It was not until I read the book that I realize exactly how different our American forefathers looked at, and separated people, from how we do today. Only in America am I Black. You know that right? If I were born anywhere else, I’d be labeled by my nationality. Think I’m wrong? I did an experiment which you can see below. I typed in names of “Black” actors and actresses born in European countries. See what Wikipedia says about each?
I dare you to do your own experiment pick ANY nationality. If you type in the name of Irish, Scottish, Hungarian actors and actresses it will also label them by nationality. Only in America are you Black or white. For those of you who never pay attention to how the rest of the world works, content to live in the bubble of American “values” and “equality” you’ll easily miss out on the real issues facing us all.
Growing up in America, I too used to think of people in terms of Black and white. It’s how we were programmed. I never separated white people into categories, at no point was a white person not white enough to be white in my book. Then I read J. Sakai’s book. I can admit my ignorance when it comes to how mistreated most nationalities have been in America. As a Black woman, I had harped on slavery so much that it hadn’t dawned on me how many other nationalities had been oppressed in AND by America.
While my people may have been majorly kidnapped and brought here to work, many other lower European nationalities ( Italian, Irish, Polish) came here of their own accord, hoping to prosper in the new land. It wasn’t that easy though. Many minorities faced conditions barely better than that of a slave and when they were emancipated things really got serious in the job battle and fight for adequate living options.
I had no idea how little the white working class made in wages, how hard they worked, how little work was available because it was never meant for America to have a white working class. I didn’t know the history clearly of how America would go into these other countries and destroy whole cities and the governments and take over. I hadn’t quite understood how many nations America had oppressed and distressed in its quest for greatness and more land and workers to toil it.
The Italians, the Polish, the Asians, The Philippines, what we now call South America, we went up into everyone’s home and took over, enacted our rule ad left our ambassadors. Even worse, the Americans left Christianity and its doctrine of submission to rule. For centuries Christianity has been pushed on people from across the globe as a way of submission and oppression. But I digress.
The sad thing is because we in America are so quick to accept and adopt labels, we try to label everything from our level of understanding. Like I stated earlier, only in America would I be called Black. Have you ever met someone from Jamaica, Haiti, or West Africa in America? If you mislabel them as Black they will quickly correct you, they will tell you they are not Black. Some will say it in disgust, they will proudly tell you where they hail from because around the world, people are recognized by nationality; except in America. Here we can’t be overt with our racism or classism anymore, so we dress up non-white.
If a person has one parent born in America of European descent and a parent with ancestry from Istanbul, Greece, Mexico or some other nation, elitist white America can’t call them white. That’s just not the American way.
Let’s be real about what ‘person of color’ means. It simply means that your ancestors hail from one of the countries oppressed by the imperialistic American government. It means that white America readily identifies the fact that you are not of the African Nation (otherwise they’d call you Black) and may have some strains of European genetics but because of whatever else you may be mixed with you’re not white enough.
The term isn’t helpful in any way other than the fact that it brings together all oppressed nations to see the common enemy.
I will leave you with this thought
‘It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.’ –Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems