“Person of color”…really? You couldn’t think of a better way to say that?

(NOTE: they totally mentioned ‘person of color’ as potentially racist on ’30 Rock’—full disclosure, the context was ‘well when you say it like that…’ but anyway I feel slightly more vindicated.)

As a warning, this is prompted by the fact that I keep finding magazines looking for more submissions by “people of color.” I’m trying not to be ragey because I don’t think that’s a good way to stimulate a conversation we should have, but it does edge on a rant at points as this is one of the few things that gets under my skin.

I sat on this for a day, I hope that helped.

For those of you not in America, “colored people” is a pretty offensive term that’s a holdover from the times when there were services for white people and then separate, junkier toilets and special cars and all that other Jim Crow nonsense for “colored people.”

If, at this point, you’re wondering what the difference between “colored people” and “people of color” as terms is, I’m right there with you.

But anyway, what really gets me about it is this attempt to reduce a person with a complicated culture to something so mundane and foolish as skin color—especially when my skin color says nothing about whether I’m Greek, Latina, Middle Eastern, Native American, or Indian. (I’ve been asked if I were all of these, and more, at one point or another—which, by the way, I prefer strongly to a totally inaccurate assumption. Why would I be offended? I don’t know what culture you’re from, either.)

If you’re looking for minority representation, say so. If you really just want powerful poetry from people whose ancestors were African (and it seems like ‘black’ is the one color-based term that doesn’t punch someone’s culture in the face, I’ve not known any people who minded that so far), say so. Et cetera, et cetera.

I don’t really see how ‘person of color’ is any better than ‘non-white’ or, well, dancing around ‘colored person’ the same way we fumble with gender pronouns around a transsexual person until someone has the nerve to ask them what they prefer.

I know there are people who get so offended or angry about being a cultural or sexual minority in whatever country they’re in that it’s hard to open a dialogue, and that’s dumb: could you please stop ruining it for the rest of us, thank you. Can’t talk? Redirect people to links. Seriously, don’t stop a conversation that needs to happen.

Likewise, it’s not that this problem is limited to the Western World. Believe me, Americans are far more sensitive about these things than Indians.

But, from the perspective of writers, language is a weapon. A pretty powerful one, too, dating back to the times when Irish bards would threaten to write satires against rulers who refused to entertain them or otherwise offended them (main source for this is some of the legends of Dagda, fair warning).

So if you’re gonna try to promote words by running a magazine or an anthology, maybe you should think harder about your own rhetoric.

I don’t care if it’s borderline militant, but I don’t want to submit to magazines that make a special point of requesting work written by “persons of color.”* My skin tone and ancestry shouldn’t be the determining factor in making my work publishable.


*I’ve met some of the publishers who are all over this term and they’re all nice people trying to deal with the fact that this is what some people actually want to be called, so…I’ll not blame the messenger. It’s not like I have to take on the label myself.

Also, I like being in print. u:


3 thoughts on ““Person of color”…really? You couldn’t think of a better way to say that?

  1. I totally see your point and it makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t ever considered that and I’m a black writer. When I hear “colored,” I think of a southern white racist male lol. I think there’s something to be said about placing the person’s humanity first as in “person of color”. I’m definitely not trying to disregard your preference though. I just thought this was an interesting viewpoint that made me consider my own. Thanks!

    • And thank you for offering me a side I hadn’t thought of at all! The distinction of putting ‘person’ first hadn’t even occurred to me. I don’t think I will ever like the term (too many people getting my culture wrong because of skin tone), but it does make me rethink whether ‘person of color’ is really just a PC twist on ‘colored person’ (which, haha, yeah, I definitely think of the Jim Crow era in the South).

  2. Pingback: Underrepresented Writers | write lies

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