Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Racial Terminology

If you've been following this blog for a while, then you may be aware of my tendency to write and rant about racial-issues from a white/Jewish perspective. (If you're not, then I suggest you check out posts like: [SFMTA Racial Tensions] or [Logical Fallacies of Race-Debators]) Since I'm not officially a "minority" my comments are considered controversial -- if only because I don't follow the groupthink.

For this post, I want to discuss a term that I've seen making the rounds among the blogosphere as racial-jargon currency:

PoC, or People of Color.

There can't possibly be a more ignorant acronym than this.

Why do I say that? Several reasons, actually.

1. The lumping together of distinct (yet arbitrary) racial-groups.

2. The hidden assumption that white is not a color.

3. The dichotomy this creates which pits all peoples against white people.

4. The dismissal of various opinions of members from said racial-groups that do not follow a preconceived "PoC majority" which does not reflect reality.

First, each racial-group is different from another, and can't just be lumped together with others as if one minority is equivalent to another. This ignorant thinking characterizes lazy minds which can't -- or refuse to deal with real diversity.

Black people do not necessarily think the same thing about racial-issues as Latino/Hispanics, or that east-Asians hold similar beliefs as do Native-Americans/Indians. (I use multiple identifiers to reflect the problem even naming different groups, as there are myriad names for every color, from shade to shade.)

Moreover, by trying to put all races into a single category, the person demonstrates a subtle racism which suggests all races must hold opinions so similar they are virtually interchangeable -- so much so, that the person begins speaking for them under the umbrella of PoC and isn't seen as intellectually dishonest or morally repugnant at all.

Second, with the use of this term comes the underlying assumption that white people do not count as PoC. Now, as a white-skinned guy I take offense to this, because the last time I checked white was a color. White people (but notably not the majority of white people) face discrimination, bigotry, racism, prejudice, and all sorts of "otherness" as much as any group. Whether they live abroad, or set outside their comfort-zone, people everywhere experience the problems that so-called PoCs experience here in the United States. And some of those people happen to be white.

I, myself, have often had to deal with antisemitism as well as racism, and it wasn't unusual to me, because I'd seen many people (of all colors) I knew go through similar things. That didn't mean I thought it was okay for this to happen, but it did help me to realize that nobody "owns" the experience of hatred. This is something people who employ the term PoC seem to forget, which is that people are complex and cannot be lumped together, yet at the same time have similar experiences that must be looked at in relation to one another.

Whites have just as much right to be accounted as a "color" as anyone else, for the simple reason that they are also people.

Thirdly, by suggesting that PoCs are one group, while whites are another, a binary racial-theory is set up where "minorities" are pitted against whites who are simply too stupid to understand the complexities of race in America, and need to be educated by PoCs on the reality.

Sorry, but that attitude is racist. Plain & simple. To suggest that whites as a group are incapable of understanding the problems of racism in our country is just as bad as saying that when black people get upset about structural/institutional/overt/subtle/whatever racism they are "overreacting". Also, it's just plain wrong.

Obviously white people understand the problems of racism... or else they (first as individuals, then as a group) would never have supported the changes which our country has gone through, from Reconstruction through Civil Rights and into Affirmative Action. Whites understand racism from their side of the equation, which OF COURSE is not the only side of the narrative. Each race has something to say about racism in America, and each story is unique, yet also has much in common because of our shared humanity. But to make white people out to be racially-retarded is a cop-out that doesn't help anyone.

Finally, as PoC is employed as the umbrella term for any race that is not white, the differences begin to get erased that make-up the complexity of these racial-groups. Suddenly, blacks, latinos, indians and asians are mixed into one big mush-pot where we expect them to agree on everything and get along! But when this doesn't happen, it's blamed on white people for continuing to be ignorant, for oppressing people, for fostering division amongst "minorities", and for generally being the bad guy.

Again, sloppy, lazy, ignorant thinking that does more harm than good.

Even more interestingly, it ignores the differences of opinion within each racial-group. Certainly the Black Panthers are not equivalent to the NAACP, and the Black Israelites definitely don't match their beliefs with those of the Nation of Islam. Or how about the "colorism" that affects the relationship between Northeast Asians and Southeast Asians? And let's not forget the problems of illegal immigration, where Ladinos and Indigenous continue their own brand of Spanish-bred racism here in America.

Yet those who use the term PoC would have them considered all alike, with interchangeable opinions and a holistic sense of "otherness" so they agree on everything regarding race in America. This is just not the case. People are fractious by nature, and no amount of lumping is going to make everyone the same consistency in the pot.

It is by acknowledging our differences that we learn to understand, and eventually accept them. This way, hate dissipates along with ignorance.

Unfortunately, use of the term PoC has been so popular due to the ease with which it may be employed for the purposes of being self-righteous rather than correct, that it has pervaded so many discussions it almost astounds me. If only because the people who use it are the same people who cry racism the loudest... The irony would be hilarious if the results weren't more hatred.

So, to conclude, please do not use PoC. If you wish to refer to all races but white then just say "minorities", because even though it's still pretty ignorant, at least it's also still true. (At least, according to the most recent US Census. Who knows next year though, eh? "Minorities" could become the majority!) The best nomenclature would be to use each race's most commonly accepted name and then exclude whites.

This way you can be honest about it when you want to make them the villain of the race-card trading-game.


7 footnotes:

Anonymous said...

I really think the biggest detriment to racial harmony - not equality - is when people who aren't of the same culture try too hard to commiserate. Once you strip people of their dignity and turn them into a helpless mass, they start to believe it (see: the current state of black America).

Anonymous said...


I say "harmony" instead of "equality" because there will never be a such thing, and I don't think there should be. There's a big difference between one culture having more power or influence versus one culture exterminating and degrading another.

Like I said in a comment on another blog, Americans are really afraid of natural selection for some reason. Someone (some group) has to be on top of the food chain for there to be order. Whether or not that person is brown, red, yellow, or white it's still going to be someone. I highly doubt black people would be complaining about discrimination as much if the roles were reversed. I really don't think the issue is racial, but economical. I think if we were the first families of Wall Street and were benefiting from generations of social advantage, non-black people would be the ones complaining about us.

Zek J Evets said...

@hawkmom: i see your point and understand it. commiseration is just a pity-party that doesn't solve anything, and often turns into a game of "one-upmanship".

however, i'm not sure how much i agree about your differentiating between "harmony" and "equliaty". i think equality would actually be more difficult to achieve than harmony, because equality means all groups will have power equivalent to one another, and that's just not something i see happening. there will always be a dominant group, even if it's a role-reversal.

but harmony seems possible, because through understanding (which is empathy NOT sympathy) different groups can work together for the betterment of society without mistrust. right now there's a lot of mistrust between different racial-groups, and especially between white and black it seems.

nonetheless, i recognize my idealism and/or naivete which is probably unrealistic, but so it goes.

Mira said...

Like I said in my comment on Jasmin's blog, I don't understand why term "People of Colour" is not considered to be offensive. I am not one of those people who is easily offended by words (and I am not much of a fan of political correctness), but "POC" sounds worse than so many other terms. I have no idea why is considered PC these days.

The idea of unity against white supremacy and racism make sense. Non-white people do experience discrimination in American society, just like minorities everywhere. It does seem logical for these people to unite against the oppressors and fight for better place in a society.

In reality, however, it never works this way. Never. The differences are bigger and more important than similarities. Also, minority groups often tend to turn at other minorities who are of different race and discriminate them.

Also, yes, it is true- with term "people of colour" it is implied that white people are "neutral", which is racist.

And yes, I know not all white people are the same. Some white supremacists (WASPs?) wouldn't consider you or me white (or equal), and besides, there are other reasons for hate (religious differences, nationalities, etc.) But it's impossible, impossible for various and different groups of people (that often don't have much in common) to unite simply because they are minorities.

PS-Technically, white isn't a colour, but that's another story.

Anonymous said...

I should've been more clear. I was actually saying that harmony *is* more likely than equality and I think we agree on that for the exact same reasons.

Zek J Evets said...

@hawkmom: oh! haha, sorry about that! i guess we agree perfectly then =)

@mira: i don't get it either. while i can understand the need for cross-racial cooperation in order to elevate the issue of racism in america to a more prominent position of debate, the whole smack just ends up falling flat it seems.

also, while "technically" white isn't a color (in regards to the dyes and such) i think in regards to race white is a color. white isn't an always oppressed color, or frequently misunderstood color, but it is a spectrum of humanity's skin, and deserves some kind of recognition among that unity.

at least, that's what i want for me and mine.

Mira said...

I posted (or not?) a reply here yesterday, but I guess it was never saved.

So let me remember what I wanted to say.

white isn't an always oppressed color, or frequently misunderstood color, but it is a spectrum of humanity's skin, and deserves some kind of recognition among that unity.

The problem with "white" as a human race is the fact it is often considered to be "neutral" and "default". Default human? You bet it's not a Native American woman, default human is white male. <- at least that's how it's perceived.

On the other hand, white people see diversity among white race, just like they often fail to see it in others ("all blacks look a like"). This could be another meaning of term "POC".

But then again, what is white and what is not varies from place to place (and time and time). Only recently I learned I would almost not be considered white in some pats of the world (which sounds absurd to me).