Archived: Is 'People of Color' Offensive

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.


Question:

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 toward progress rather than log rolling ourselves into irrelevance.

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