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Is ‘People of Color’ Offensive?

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Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.


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Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
Is “people of color” the right terminology to describe a diverse population?

Answer:
In my opinion, “people of color” is an effective way to describe non-white people in the United States. One can correctly argue that “white” people are people of color, or that some Latinos are white; however, unless the goal is to endlessly argue semantics, it’s more useful to use a common phrase to describe people who are commonly thought of as not being white by the white majority in this country.

“People of color” is a respectful-sounding phrase, it’s in common use, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the phrase “citizens of color” in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

Ultimately, I think we must all recognize that the conversation revolves around imaginary differences. There is only one human race and we are all originally from Africa. That’s not a concept that the majority in any culture gives into easily, however, so I think there’s much to be gained by using a simple and well-recognized phrase that everyone can understand.

I want to point out that in the almost ten years of publishing DiversityInc, I’ve heard endless arguments from progressive people about nomenclature. It’s tiresome, boring and counterproductive. You can call it diversity or inclusion or popcorn—as soon as the bigots figure out the code, they’re going to denigrate the word. By sticking to standard phraseology, we keep the discussion pointed towards progress rather than log rolling ourselves into irrelevance.

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7 Comments

  • I must point out that the term “People of Color” is a set of ALL COLORS. I DO NOT AGREE with the word “WHITE” in reference to SKIN color either, since there is NO SUCH THING as white skin. European skin color is as much colored as chinese or Arabic skin color. “Negro” is a derogatory term for many, to some Africans it is perfectly fine. I think every race should choose to call themselves whatever they like and NOT to NAMED by SOMEONE ELSE. Negro, Colored, People of color are RACIAL SLURS mainly used by CAUCASIAN population in the United States. Bear in mind, Caucasian men and woman’s skin color is changing as well due to environmental and cross breeding with other races making them more colored. Yes, europeans living in Southern USA, South America are becoming darker due to natural conditions and they fit perfectly the description of the word “COLORED” or “PEOPLE OF COLOR”

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the term ‘people of color’ is offensive because it implies that ‘non-colored’ or white is the norm or ideal. I am not of direct African descent; however, I am non-Anglo and this that using the term ‘colored’ or ‘people of color’ is extremely racist.

  • I believe that when discussing race issues, it IS indeed best to get out of semantics’ way. However, being that many Americans are no longer educated in the manner of “learning to think,” that concept may prove difficult for the masses. Witness the previous “discussions” here about your point: the individuals could not even identify the main theme you presented. To reiterate your point–”it’s tiresome, boring, and counterproductive.”

    Well presented. I wish this ideology could be accepted and adopted completely and naturally.

  • As long as we keep having to discuss this, it will be an issue. Anyone who has to find a word to describe someones race is a racist. Actually anyone who believes they belong to a race is racist.

    So here’s my suggestion – stop talking about it, and stop making up and using words to describe race. There is absolutely no reason for it!

    • Luke Visconti

      The headstream of racism is when a person mistakes good fortune for providence. Only a person who does not have to worry about race can make such a foolish set of statements. I’d imagine the University of Minnesota cannot be very proud of taking your money—they probably feel like they have to wash out the cash register every time you pay tuition. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Well of course I’m being a bit of a pollyanna to make a point. My point is this: I’m no better than you, or worse than you based on a set of social distinctions like race. I may be a better guitar player than you, because I’ve worked harder at it than you have. You are a better CEO than I am, because you’ve worked harder at it than I have. But in society, we know that people judge people based on how they look. People who may not know us are always looking at us, and judging. Race is a way to classify, therefore a way to judge. I simply pine for a world with one less thing to judge over.

        I may have insulted you by making the claim that those who believe they belong to a race are racist. For insulting you I apologize. My thinking is if a person believes they belong to a race different from other races, the inherent egocentrism that exists in people will cause them to believe they are better because of it.

        • Luke Visconti

          Nice comeback. The problem with positing a solution that ignores a precondition is that it cannot be realistic. We human beings intensely focus on race; it is a legacy of vision being our dominant sense and our common hunting-gathering ancestry on the mother continent (Africa—look up the Genographic Project at National Geographic). People are intensely tribal, and people use that tribalism as leverage to gain power—it defines our known history. Black and white in our country, Bull Connor, George Wallace; and abroad, Han, Uighers, Tutsi, Hutu, Pol Pot, Baby Doc—it goes on and on. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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