Stop misusing “people of color” to erase issues specific to Black people
Today, "people of color" is being hijacked to erase the same struggle, greatness, and Blackness of the women who created it.
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
By Tynesha McCullers
Beyoncé slayed her Coachella performance this past weekend, there’s no denying that. Headlining this year’s festival after having to cancel last year for maternity leave, Beyoncé is the first Black woman to head the festival since its inception in 1999.
With the inclusion of a live HBCU-esque drumline/band, singing the Black National Anthem, stepping, swag surfin’, guest appearances and the best of her discography, Beyoncé stole Coachella and made it Beychella. Her performance was an ode to Black Womanhood and Blackness, and created a sense of pride within me as a Black woman watching with millions of others.
While the praise was nearly unanimous, I couldn’t help but feel immediately annoyed by some of the applauding posts on social media, particularly those that praised Beyoncé as a “woman of color.” How is it that Beyoncé, a woman who has time and time again called herself Black and incorporated Black culture and themes in her craft, is still being called a “woman of color”? How much of this is erasure of her identity, and how much of it is rooted in anti-Blackness?
It wasn’t until I got to graduate school that I started to hear the terminology “person of color” or “woman of color.” Perhaps I had not heard it prior to then because I was born and raised in a southern place where race was a binary—simply Black or white. Being called a “woman of color” would make me cringe, and whenever it happened, I would correct the person saying it by letting them know I was a “Black woman.”
One of the most pivotal times this happened was when I had a self-identified biracial woman of color sit down with me to tell me about a Facebook post I made weeks prior stating “I am a Black Woman and not a woman of color.” She continued by telling me that saying I was Black and not a person of color was a bit divisive. I sat with her words but recall feeling annoyed without knowing why.
“Women of color” was a political term created in 1977 by Black women attending a National Women’s Conference in Houston, TX. The Black women formally named themselves the “Black Women’s Agenda” (BWA) and compiled a list of items they wanted delegates to vote on as opposed to the original “Minority Plank” created by white women organizers. While in Houston, the BWA found that women of other minority groups wanted to be included in BWA and after agreeing to this, BWA was changed and the term woman of color was birthed.
In fewer words, WOC was a term created by Black women to be inclusive of women of other marginalized racial groups. Today, hoever, it is being hijacked to erase the same struggle, greatness, and Blackness of the women who created it. In this context, describing me, a Black woman, as a woman of color feels like denying myself of my full humanity.
I have noticed that I am only a “woman of color” when it’s convenient for non-Black people. It feels like white people only call me a “woman of color” when they fear describing my identity the wrong way, or its done out of pure laziness. Non-Black POC only call me a “woman of color” when they want to take credit for my work or want me to invest my Black ass labor in POC movements.
Describing Black people as people of color even when people of other marginalized groups are not a part of the narrative is ultimately rooted in white supremacy and anti-Blackness. Calling a Black woman doing specifically Black things a woman of color is erasure, and is far from the original intent of the creators of this term.
Black is not a dirty word, and it should stop being treated as such by all people. If Beyoncé says she is the first Black woman to head Coachella, do not minimize that by saying she is the first WOC to head Coachella. Calling her a WOC after she has declared herself Black to essentially take credit for her achievements and overall greatness is disrespectful at the very least.
Some may argue that specifying race further divides us, but avoiding the term Black just to make others feel more at ease or comfortable only furthers their ideals around anti-Blackness. Rather than avoid it, people need to lean into their discomfort around Blackness and unpack why it is that they are so bothered by it.
I, for one, am comfortable and firm in my identity as a Black Woman. When I tell you that I am a Black woman and want to be referred to as such, do not deny me of that by calling me a woman of color, especially when I am producing great work that honors my ancestors, my family, and my people. When I struggle, I struggle as a Black woman. When I succeed, I succeed as a Black woman. And I don’t mind telling and reminding people around me of this fact.
Declaring myself as a Black woman allows for me to resist any and all anti-Black rhetoric from anyone. Black people taking ownership over our Blackness and not allowing others to categorize and minimize Us will only elevate Us and Our greatness. When so many people are trying to erase us, the comfort we find in our Blackness matters more than anyone else’s discomfort.
Tynesha is a strong-willed higher education professional in the DMV with a passion for social justice. Born and raised in North Carolina, Tynesha is true to southern roots. Tynesha has a B.S. in Human Development and a Master of Education. Tynesha’s interests include watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, singing, painting, traveling, and writing.