Social Justice Definition
A term used, primarily in the United States, to describe all people who are not white. The term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. People of color was introduced as a preferable replacement to both non-white and minority, which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; non-white defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and minority frequently carries a subordinate connotation. (Routledge)
New Discourses Commentary
There are a lot of things that could be said about this term, but for the most part, it is okay—not great or good, but certainly not bad either. The object to pay attention to here, if anything, is the attempt to create “inclusive” language for all people who are not white, so as to unify the not-white groups in a binary that positions them against the white group (see also, deconstruction). This will be for generating a means of effecting identity politics. Since within POC, there is great intersectional infighting and division (e.g., the BIPOC—black and indigenous people of color—split from POC, who BIPOC see as relatively more privileged – see also, settler of color), there are reasons to believe that this coalition-building through applied linguistics isn’t really working that well.
Of note, similarly avoiding the term “minority” (which binaries with “majority”) taps into the same issue. Other attempts to get around this refer to them as “minoritized groups,” which strategically ascribes the theorized power dynamics into the term and also circumvents the possibility that they would lose their oppressed status should they become a plurality or majority.
There are many variations on this term, including students of color, teachers of color, women of color, transwomen of color, settlers of color, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. It is worth noting that these terms are generally benign and commonplace now, but the “of color” construction is the product of a deliberate political project—and it’s probably worth maintaining some awareness of that.
In a perfect example of how Social Justice will eventually problematize everything, even that which it created, and turn it against “dominant” groups, the term “people of color” has recently been recognized by Social Justice adherents as described here—as a way to lump non-white people together as a single identity group that isn’t white. Theory has interpreted this cynically (of course), however, and suggests that the term “people of color” is a way for white people to create a single identity group to be against, all of which is non-white, so they can proceed to ignore the legitimate racial variations therein (see also, BIPOC and erasure). That is, the term “people of color” is beginning to be theorized as yet another form of white supremacy.
One might also notice that avoiding the binary between “white” and non-white “people of color” follows from a Derridean hierarchical view that attempts to position one side as intrinsically favored (white) and hierarchically superior to the other—this being in need of deconstructing. This problem could be avoided simply by calling people by the racial/ethnic/national-origin identifiers that best apply to each individual, as they wish (or not), but this fails to create a coalition under a single banner. Nevertheless, this analysis places the Social Justice understanding and application of the concept of “people of color” squarely within a postmodern framework.
Binary; BIPOC; Deconstruction; Derridean; Dominance; Erasure; Identity; Identity politics; Inclusive; Intersectionality; Minoritized; Oppression; Postmodern; Problematize; Settler of color; Systemic power; Theory; White; White supremacy
Revision date: 2/5/20