Colored vs. Person of Color

ImageEarlier this week in lecture, we were discussing why people of color don’t mobilize their rights when they experience various forms of discrimination.  There was a particular comment in class that stood out to me and was something along the lines that “colored” people had been silenced in one of our classmate’s interactions with a group.  It immediately caught my attention.  Being a person of color, I surveyed the room to see the reactions of my fellow black classmates.  We all shared the look of disbelief on our faces that the word “colored” has been used in class even after Professor Levitsky repeatedly used the term “people of color” to describe minorities.  I was shocked and yet I said nothing to address the comment; no one said anything.  Why didn’t anyone speak up?

I wanted to know the thought process behind not only my black peers but everyone else in the class.  I know personally I didn’t say anything because for one, I DON’T think her comment was made out of malice and I completely understood the point that she was trying to make, even though I didn’t agree with the terminology.  Even though I knew that she wasn’t trying to be offensive, I still felt slightly offended.  Never in my life have I been colored.  I am a black American, and I have never seen myself differently.

Believe it or not, this is not the first experience that I have had in a class at the university where a person of the Caucasian race has used the term “colored” to describe black Americans.  However, when it was used before, I happened to be the only black person in class and I felt obligated to speak up.  I addressed my discussion section and asked if we’d all use the terms black or African American to describe a person of color.  In a small discussion it was easy to say something about the comments made in class but in lecture I didn’t.  Maybe I thought that someone else would say something so I wouldn’t have to.  I know I also didn’t want to be characterized as the angry black woman making an issue in class.  I also didn’t want Professor Levitsky to see me or label me as a troublemaker.  I feared retaliation and I didn’t want to be called out in class.  What are your thoughts?  Whether you happen to be a person of color or just a person who noticed the comment, why didn’t you or why do you think no one said anything?

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7 Responses to Colored vs. Person of Color

  1. Hi, i noticed your post and i had a few thoughts to contribute of my own. Firstly, not to belittle you but how is “person of color” different from “colored”. To me it is a matter of semantics, like saying a “Follower of Buddha” vs. saying “Buddhist”. To most of us it is plain uncomfortable to have to discuss the issue at all. Mainly we do not want to offend anyone, yet we have clear double standards. I as a white person usually do not discuss my race or background, it is of little importance. So when i see people who talk about their race frequently i tend to ignore them. I really don’t understand the point in being offended, or looking to debate about racial issues. I think most people have a culture bias not a race bias. I really don’t care what race you are if you act and dress similar to me and generally are an agreeable and considerate friend. I do however find it rather ridiculous that being called “colored” is offensive to you when if you walk around my old town of Sacramento on a weekend i hear “nigger, nigga, and black ass” being thrown around more causally than a Frisbee. I have been called “cracker, ghost, white boy, hater/ Racist” etc. and i usually ignore them as idiots. So to put it plainly i think you are being a bit too sensitive.

    To directly answer your question though, my guess is most students did not see it as offensive or were unsure if it was. Or if someone did feel as you did, they either had no stake in it i.e. they were not black or they were like most people and have a fear of speaking in front of large groups.

    And finally not all black people can be appropriately labeled “African American” as they may have ancestral roots from another continent, or do not consider themselves anything but American.

    Anyway i welcome any comments you may have in return 🙂

  2. mcastan7 says:

    I don’t think that you were being overly sensitive at all when your classmate used the term “colored people” to describe African Americans. It’s not politically correct. The APA manual has a whole section on the appropriate terminology to use when referring to minority groups and “colored” is definitely a word they discourage using! It’s the same as using the term “hermaphrodite” to describe a person born with both male and female reproductive organs; that word is outdated and inappropriate, the new term is “intersex.”

    I have wondered many times in class why people don’t speak up when others say something that could be offensive to others, or why I myself didn’t say anything. I measure the statement on its severity; if what the person said was really, really offensive then I would definitely speak up, but if it’s not that bad I won’t say anything because I fear confrontation. I would hate to speak up and potentially start an argument with a classmate over something that isn’t THAT big of a deal. When people say offensive things I try to just shrug it off as them being ignorant and foolish because I know what they said is wrong.

    I think that, unfortunately, we now live in a society where people are desensitized to derogatory language. There are so many derogatory and politically incorrect statements and jokes out there nowadays that when people hear them they’re not shocked at all. In the South they have probably been desensitized to things like that for a lot longer then, say, people who live in the western United States because of their history of slavery and segregation in schools and other public places. Growing up I wasn’t exposed to racial slurs or even the word “colored”, people were always “Asian-American” or “Mexican-American” or “African-American.” I learned about those words in my history classes in school though and how negative and hurtful they were to use. But now I hear people use racial slurs occasionally like it’s no big deal, whether they are telling a joke or story, or if they’re racist and actually mean to offend someone. Sometimes when I’ve heard people use the N word they say it as just any other insult, like calling someone stupid or gay. Like, “Oh it’s no big deal it’s just a word.” But it’s NOT just a word.

    I like watching that show on ABC, “What Would You Do?” because they act out real-life scenarios to see who, if anyone, will speak up. Sometimes it’s disappointing how little people do for others or what little faith they have in people, but mostly it’s inspiring. Whenever I finish an episode I’m almost WISHING something like that would happen to me so I could speak up and do something. But when things like that actually happen in the classroom I tend to be silent and that’s something I hope to work on because of you. Since I have never been offended by a classmates’ remarks it’s eye-opening to hear the perspective of the offended, so thank you for that.

  3. erikamir says:

    This is the author, obviously :). I wrote this blog for another class in the past fall semester on a private blog. I certainly appreciate the comments but, I was just wondering how anyone else saw this…that’s all. Thanks!

  4. yesdelrinc says:

    As a communication student, I have studied how important it is to carefully choose our words. Language is the means that we connect with others and the mode that allows us to be expressive of our sociological, political, psychological, etc. selves.

    Thus, I believe your blog brings up an important issue that might be overlooked by the person that believes the offended minority member might be too sensitive. I am woman of color and I also see the obvious difference between calling someone “person of color” or “colored.” To call someone colored echoes the racial slurs of 50’s-60’s xenophobic America. This phrase usage also calls to mind a disturbing image of someone being colored brown or black with a box of Crayolas. “Person of color” is thoughtful language that discloses the ethnicity of the individual in a respectful manner.

    Therefore, I urge the individual who believes that minorities who demand to properly called are just being sensitive, to critically analyze her usage of language. Language allows us to connect with others. Hence, we must choose our words with care in order to be able to connect positively with others.

    • Firstly i am a he not a she. Secondly i think you ignored a large part of my argument.

      I said that defining yourself by ethnicity was a poor way to use language. I also cited a something of similar context that you would not consider to be offensive. Additionally, not all “people of color” can agree on what is offensive.I have reflected on my usage of language, and i find it perfectly suitable considering my friends are not offended and that i have been on both ends.

      I used to live in Stockton in a neighborhood where i was the minority, and i had to face plenty of discrimination too. So being upset because someone uses a descriptive word versus assigning an attribute to the person in question seems a little over the top.

      If your argument today is that it has echoes of an unpleasant history i would ask you how many people do you know who have actually meant any malice towards you when using said terminology? Is the racism or ridicule the speakers intent or is it a matter of your own biases and tendencies?

  5. newbieblogster13 says:

    I’m not a person who thinks deeply so please excuse me if my comment offends anyone or seems idiotic, but I personally don’t see the difference between colored or person of color. I see them as synonyms. They both seem to be defined as a person of another race that isn’t Caucasian. I’m Asian and i think I’d be classified under both those terms. It doesn’t seem like one term or the other is specifically targeting a certain race.

  6. rubit91 says:

    Hello! I found your post extremely interesting. I believe that you were in all your right to feel uncomfortable. There are proper ethnicity names that can be used rather than these other phrases. In cases like the one you stated many people are afraid to speak up when a professor is involved because it can bring serious consequences upon their grade. I have experienced the same situation. Before transferring to ASU, in my community college I had a professor who constantly made comments like the one you mentioned. At first I did not say anything; besides being shy I was scared of the consequences. Finally, I had a point in which I could not deal with it anymore and spoke up. After bringing it to his attention, I was constantly called on and furthermore at the end of the semester it affected my grade.

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