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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » People of Colour

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Author Topic: People of Colour
eryn_smiles
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I know that this question is not related to sexuality. But since it soon will be :) I am wondering...

What does it mean to be a person of colour? Is it the same as being a coloured person? Did it initially only apply to African Americans? Are people ever insulted by this term? Or is it something positive that people use to define themselves?

What is someone who is not of colour? Are they colourless or are they white? But what does 'white' mean? Are all people from Europe included? What about South Americans? What if someone is multi-ethnic? Are they neither?

Isn't this quite a binary way to look at it? Are all non-white people really discriminated against in the same way?

I think this is an American term, and I am not American- this is why I ask.

I will be involved with an organisation promoting the rights of 'ethnic' women. But I dont quite like this word either. Why would a woman from Australia or England or Canada not be ethnic...but someone from Ghana or Iran or Malaysia is?

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Heather
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Just to give you a little bit of history on the term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person_of_color

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Djuna
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This term has annoyed me for a while. I'm a person of colour - coloured a sort of beigey pink.
The question is, with the possible exception of announcements by the Surgeon General (South Asians are more susceptible to diabetes II, for example), are there any valid instances where it really is necessary to speak to all 'people of colour' collectively?
If a term really is needed, after all, something along the lines of 'melanino' would be more suitable, no? Melanin is, after all, the only thing that makes us different.

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Heather
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(Just a quickie?

With threads like this that really are not about caucasians/whites, I really would like those of us who are caucasian -- I don't know your scoop exactly, patrick, but I recall you being caucasian so this may or may not be at you -- to step aside per our opinions and let people of color talk about the terms which they, as a group have created and use -- so yes, lots of people of color would say a term like this is needed, since that's who came up with it, not so much to talk "to" but to speak "of" -- to identify themselves and which just are not about us. With threads like this, when it happens where someone not of color, in the sense that term is meant to describe, comes in talking and objecting to someone not about them rather than listening to something about someone else what it often does is effectively silence those who are from feeling able to speak.

That's part of unpacking privilege is to recognize when we might be exercising it. And did we not have racism in the world and class differences due to racism, than yes, how much melanin in our skin might be one of our only primary differences, if you except cultural differences, which excepts an awful lot. But that is not the case and racism and oppression due to being anything other than white, particularly in the states, Canada and western Europe is no small issue or reality for millions of people and through most of the modern history of those areas and others.

Again, I don't know your own cultural/racial makeup and apologize if I've presumed incorrectly, but in general, one does usually only hear this kind of deep annoyance with this issue from whites.)

[ 07-28-2008, 07:06 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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diamonds4lucy
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I have to preface what I'm going to say by making clear that I am in no way, shape, or form a representative of any group: I can only speak for myself. Also, what I'm writing comes from a very American perspective, so also keep this in mind.

Race and racial identity in the United States is something that I, as the daughter of a Lebanese-American immigrant, see as very complex.

As I grow older, more and more I realized that I've seen myself "othered" in the media and society in general. White (of European ancestry) is the default setting on the lens through which nearly everything is considered in my world. I grew up in a world where if I wanted to see people who looked like my father on TV, I'd have to stay up past the family sitcoms with European-white dads and tune into the news about conflict in the Middle East. Even the token "minority" characters in cartoons and young adult novels were never of Middle Eastern ancestry.

When I look in the mirror (particularly if it's summer and I've gotten a slight tan), I'm sometimes surprised at how dark my features are: my hair, my eyebrows, my deep-set eyes. I've lived in this body for 23 years, and sometimes I still see myself as other: that's frightening.

I'm a fan of the phrase "people of color" (although I waiver on whether I, personally, identify as a person of color for complex reasons I'm not going to go into at the moment) because it acknowledges the universal or near-universal experience that people of color face in America: the fact that, when it comes to mainstream America, we are the other.

No one person of color's experience is the same, of course, and what I've encountered personally is a drop in the bucket to what some other minorities and individuals face on a day-to-day basis. It's an area I don't know as much about as I should, and there's a wealth of information out there to be studied. However, there isn't a substitute for talking to people of color (whether or not they identify as such, or feel the term is appropriate) about their experiences- of course, it's best not to go around to people saying "hey, you don't look white! What's up with that?".

I'm sure many would disagree with some of what I've said, and that's very okay. It's their experiences as people of color that are important, I feel, when it comes to this subject- expressing distaste over the term itself(particularly from European whites) is better suited after we've all had our say regarding our experiences.

Edited to add: I haven't mentioned the bad or hurtful comments that have personally hurt me over the years, because, well, they personally hurt me, and, at this point in my life, I'm not comfortable discussing them here.

[ 07-29-2008, 04:22 AM: Message edited by: Coastal Nicole ]

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eryn_smiles
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Nicole- thats a really thoughtful reply, thank you.

Where I live as well, I've noticed a real lack of awareness and knowledge about the Middle East. Even I don't know a lot about this region. But a friend of mine was born in Qatar, another is from Iraq. And I am learning.

I can kind of relate to what you're saying about your looks. When i was younger I wished I was fairer or whiter to fit in. And then whenever I visited Lanka, I wished I was darker. I like to think that now Im happy with my skin.

It is frightening to see yourself as 'other' and its even worse when other people reinforce this. People certainly see me as a foreigner in NZ and often see me as the same when I return to Sri Lanka. Its something thats common with 2nd/3rd generation immigrants everywhere. When someone on the street mutters under their breath that I should "go back to my own country" it is particularly hard. Because I dont have a country. Or perhaps, indeed I have two...

I can mention some comments that have hurt me. When people refer to me as an immigrant or a foreigner in the country I have lived in for 23 years. When they complain about the incompetence of foreign doctors or when they request "a European doctor, please". When people look at the colour of my skin and compliment me on the quality of my English.

When people imitate my mother's accent. When they ask if my family owns a dairy (small grocery store- often owned by South Asians in NZ). Or if my father drives a taxi. When they ask whether we arrived here as refugees (because theres no way my father could have actually arrived with a job...) When people assume that my parents must be arranging a marriage for me, and somehow find this funny.

When one of my supervisors says that Indian men beat their wives and only marry them because of their poor Englsh so that they can dominate them. When he expresses distaste at paying taxes to provide for people who dont speak English (because, clearly English is the ONLY language worth speaking!)

I imagine that many people of colour and immmigrants could relate..

[ 08-02-2008, 08:27 PM: Message edited by: eryn_smiles ]

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"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

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QuantumInc
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"Person of Colour" is indeed a bizarre term. It cannot be taken literally, and it has no precise term. It is used, alongside "minorities," "ethnics" etc, to describe a massive variety of people. The one thing they have in common is that they are not "white"/"Caucasian".
In an ideal society there would not be much use for such terminology, however people of color are affected negatively by various popular perceptions, many of which ultimately stem from distrust of the "other".

As a man born to upper middle class parents of anglo-saxon descent, I cannot empathize with you Nicole. The idea of BEING the "other" must be terrifying at times. My awareness of the issue is from the other side of the fence. I'm terrified of being racist, of somehow contributing to the oppression of people like Nicole and eryn. However I can't help but feel afraid of large groups of African Americans, or sometimes a little weird when somebody starts speaking Korean. Despite my best efforts, Stereotypes still get into my head, and I can't help but feel that fear of people different from oneself is instinctual.

Though I don't want to sound pessimistic. At least I'm trying. I believe most "white" people understand the importance of racial diversity. Though, I think on the individual scale, what matters is how you view yourself. There is a massive variety of external factors that influence us, and of course the country of origin of our ancestors is a big one, however our sense of identity can and should be of one's own choosing.

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eryn_smiles
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Thanks for your thoughts about this..

I'm wondering, what is threatening for you (or for any of us) about being around people from a different ethnic group? How different are we from each other, really? Is it possible, that as people, we have more similarities than differences?

You note that most "white" people understand the importance of racial diversity, but i think that very statement places "white" people on a pedestal. As people of colour, are we an imposition on the lives of white people that needs to be grudgingly accepted, or if we are so lucky, valued?

I agree that we should be able to craft our own identity however we choose, and yet that is easier for some of us than for others. I don't easily forget when i hear a colleague of mine described as being "as black as the ace of spades" or "one of those brown people". How easy is it to see ourselves as we really are, when that is what we hear?

(Hopefully it's understood that my intent isn't to criticise you or anyone, but only to question and discuss these issues [Smile] )

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"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

Audre Lorde

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Jill2000Plus
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I'm white, to be clear about where this is coming from, but a second of thought brought out that I'm not scared of large groups of african americans, I'm just scared of large groups of individuals of any physical description whatsoever. I don't know whether for some, thinking "x group of individuals scare me" is a faulty logic distortion of "large groups of homosapiens have the power to beat the crap out of me and otherwise physically overpower me and just generally do some kind of majoritanist vote declaring me to be problematic in x way and therefore to be dealt with harshly", but that doesn't excuse such prejudiced thinking. That's the point of what discrimination is. Also I realize that a large group of individuals doesn't automatically equal trouble, and that being suspicious of the increased physical advantage must be tempered by the expressed goals of the group and a recognition that we are still individuals even when acting towards one or more shared goals and therefore even if some in a group start assaulting or saying prejudiced or rights violation endorsing things to anyone who is or is not a part of that group, there is a good chance that there will be others who will try to stop them (I would like to make clear that the use of the term group is in no way meant to make some kind of equivalence between a group of white supremacists and a group of, say, women), and that having a shared characteristic does not make one in the state of consciously choosing a group, ie. if you see a relatively large number of members of any racial minority (in the sense of being a large number of individuals, not that this number is different for different races) in any location, don't automatically presume that they all know and associate with one another, as they may well be complete strangers, and some may actively dislike others, for whatever reason. I disagree that most white individuals understand the importance of all races being treated the same and nobody being marginalized on the basis of their race (not all those who are people of colour do either, I guess, but y' know, white privilege.)

I hate when stuff like "as black as the ace of spades" is said, somebody will just think they are being quirky or witty when they are actually once again reinforcing the idea that we should be defined, and not just in the sense of looking at oppression and privilege but in some kind of absolute sense, by the colour of our skin.

"one of those brown people"... for crud's sake that sounds like they're describing some kind of medical equipment with a long name that's possibly in Latin, not a homosapien, an individual. It's like they actually managed to sound generalising without even ascribing a characteristic.

All the stereotypes you mentioned, like all stereotypes, I want to support you in thinking they are a load of rubbish. I recognize that all stereotypes are problematic as they tend to lead to either "this is inherent to this group of individuals and therefore is good and just no matter what it is and cannot be questioned" or "this is inherent to this group of individuals so let's openly dismiss/assault/insult them on that assumption!". And just because they don't reflect that everyone's experiences are not the same, that thoughts differ, that what we do, do to others, with others and have done to us vary. What Coastal Nicole said about the term people of colour (I am sorry but the quote marks on my keyboard aren't working at the moment), I have heard that the term black was (is?) used in a similar way by black and other racial minority activists (and possibly by white allies), to mean anyone who wasn't white, to reflect the shared experience of being regarded as other, though I wonder if such a term might make those who are members of other racial minorities than black feel invisible?

So somebody doesn't want to pay taxes that support those who don't speak English... there's a certain irony in that those taxes would probably go some way towards providing the option of taking English language learning courses, but more importantly, they are saying that somebody who doesn't speak English is lesser than someone who does, the very idea that somebody should be penalized for not speaking any language is abhorrent. Maybe they'd like for their taxes not to support born homosapiens under the age of 1, or anybody who uses sign language or autistic individuals who use other methods of communication as well, because they don't speak English either. Are they going to start an abolition of miming society? This isn't meant to play oppression olympics, I'm just thinking about what these kinds of statements about what non-violative methods we should use to communicate imply. It would be great if we all knew every language in the world, but that's unlikely to ever happen, and the best we can do is to all communicate in non violative ways. It is worth reinforcing that whoever said this doesn't want to maintain a shared method of communication, they just want foreigners out of the country, and most likely all racial minority individuals. Being told your English is good with that kind of wide eyed surprise is... not that it's the same, but my closest parallel is things like when somebody says you're so good at math! when I'm a girl and I know they're so amazed at this exceptional woman they've found who can, like, add up and stuff, even when they don't use flowers, embroidery stitches and kittens to count with or let us write in pink pen.

I'll also mention that I am very literal and pedantic, that unless I can see a very good reason for non-literal language I won't tend to use it and will always want to keep some awareness of the literal form of what is being said in my head. I guess I'm just mentioning that because I should be aware of it, maybe, though I don't think it's something to apologise for.

[ 04-07-2009, 10:13 PM: Message edited by: Jill2000Plus ]

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