Thursday, March 05, 2009

Would a rose by any other name...

Have you ever wondered why I use the words and phrases that I do? Why I say, "people of color" instead of "minority?" "Black" instead of "African-American?" Why I say "marginalized groups" and don't say "non-white?" I thought you might, so let me explain...

I don't say minority, because globally people of color are not a minority. If current trends continue in the U.S., they won't be a minority here much longer either. I also don't like the word minority because to me it connotes a lack of power, and reinforces the idea that people of color are in a one-down position to white people.

I say people of color, because currently it doesn't have any negative connotations and it is easier than saying, "black, brown, asian, latino, middle eastern and native american." Try typing that three times fast. I say "currently doesn't have any negative connotations" because it seems like what happens when we talk about these labels is that something will become the accepted thing to say, only to become unacceptable to say a few years later, or vice versa. For example, did you know at one time it was considered rude to call black people black? Like, really insulting. I didn't know that until a few months ago.

I only say African-American when I am writing a paper and don't want to get too repetitive. I don't know any black person that calls themselves African-American. I don't know that many black people, but I bet you would find similar results if you did a study. My understanding of how African-American came about was to have a term that got rid of some of the negative connotations of black, got people in touch with their African heritage and, made more of an ethnic distinction instead of a racial one. Saying European-American instead of white goes along these same lines.

I have positive connotaions with the word black: "Black is Beautiful" "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!" I'm also aware that the word black has a lot of negative connotations, but I choose to keep using it in an effort to counteract some of those associations.

I'd like to get more in touch with my African heritage. I think it's something I would be more interested in if I could actually trace my bloodline to specific families, instead of just a region of a continent. That has always been one thing I've been envious of white people for, the ability (for some of them,) to trace their geneaology back several generations. I've got some plans to get more in touch with my "African-ness," perhaps I'll write about the results in a future blog post.

Marginalized groups: this is one of my favorites for a couple of reasons. First, it encompasses a number of situations, not just race. Age, sexual orientation, ability level, gender, etc. So it's a very useful term. Second, I like it because it highlights the fact that these groups often exist "on the margins" and a often placed there by the dominant group. It puts some of the responsibilty on the dominant group to actively work to bring these groups away from the margins. I also like it because it encompasses the idea that people can be marginalized in one way (like race) but be dominant in another way (like sexual orientation)

Finally, I don't say non-white because (once again,) this term reinforces the idea that white is the standard, and everything else should be defined in relationship to it. White is not the sun, with all the other groups revolving around it. White is just one of the many planets in the solar system, and we are all revolving around something greater and more powerful than our little spheres of dirt.

So that's it in a nutshell. As always, I welcome your comments.


  1. Anonymous9:49 PM

    hear, hear. well said. i hope millions of people read this!

  2. Anonymous11:22 PM

    African-American, there is a term that I've always wanted to know something about.

    I worked with a white guy who came here from South Africa when he married a lady from here. Of course he became a citizen. He always thought it was funny when he filled out a form. It asked for race. So he checked the box that best fit him, African-American.

    When asked, he said he has had people become very offensive that he would check that box.

    Why is that box wrong, and what would you check?