Colored is an ethnic descriptor historically used in the United States (predominantly during the Jim Crow era) and the United Kingdom. In the US, the term initially denoted non-"white" individuals generally. The meaning was essentially the same in the UK, with "coloured" thus equivalent to "people of colour". However, usage of the appellation "colored" in the American South gradually came to be restricted to "negroes". Following the Civil Rights Movement, "colored" and "negro" gave way to "black" and (in the US) "African American". According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word colored was first used in the 14th century, but with a meaning other than race or ethnicity.
In other English-speaking countries, the term – often spelled coloured – has varied meanings. In South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the term coloured (often capitalized) refers both to a specific ethnic group of complex mixed origins, which is considered neither black nor white, and in other contexts (usually lower case) to people of mixed race. In British usage, the term refers to "a person who is wholly or partly of non-white descent" and its use may be regarded as antiquated or offensive, and other terms are preferable, particularly when referring to a single ethnicity.
The first twelve United States Census counts enumerated '"colored" people, who totaled nine million in 1900. The census counts of 1910–1960 enumerated "negroes". NPR reported that the "use of the phrase "colored people" peaked in books published in 1970." "It's no disgrace to be colored," the black entertainer Bert Williams famously observed early in the century, "but it is awfully inconvenient."
"Colored people lived in three neighborhoods that were clearly demarcated, as if by ropes or turnstiles", wrote Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. about growing up in segregated West Virginia in the 1960s. "Welcome to the Colored Zone, a large stretched banner could have said.... Of course, the colored world was not so much a neighborhood as a condition of existence." "For most of my childhood, we couldn't eat in restaurants or sleep in hotels, we couldn't use certain bathrooms or try on clothes in stores", recalls Gates. His mother retaliated by not buying clothes that she was not allowed to try on. He remembered hearing a white man deliberately calling his father by the wrong name: "'He knows my name, boy,' my father said after a long pause. 'He calls all colored people George.'" When Gates's cousin became the first black cheerleader at the local high school, she was not allowed to sit with the team and drink Coke from a glass, but had to stand at the counter drinking from a paper cup. Professor Gates also wrote about his experiences in his 1995 book, Colored People: A Memoir.
In the 21st century, "colored" is generally regarded as an offensive term. The term lives on in the name of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, generally called the NAACP. In 2008, its communications director Carla Sims said "the term 'colored' is not derogatory, [the NAACP] chose the word 'colored' because it was the most positive description commonly used [in 1909, when the association was founded]. It's outdated and antiquated but not offensive."
In contemporary English today the term "people of colour" is considered more acceptable than coloured and is much more frequently used in everyday conversation.
- Statistical Abstract of the United States. Department of the Treasury, United States. 1934. p. 554.
- Nicholas Deakin, Brian Cohen, Julia McNeal (1970). Colour, citizenship and British society: based on the Institute of Race Relations report. Panther Books. p. 57. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- Trigger, Bruce G. (1978). Northeast. Smithsonian Institution. p. 290. Retrieved 15 January 2017.
- "Colored | Definition of Colored by Merriam-Webster". Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
- "Is the word 'coloured' offensive?". Magazine. BBC News. November 9, 2006. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
In times when commentators say the term is widely perceived as offensive, a Labour MP lost no time in condemning it "patronising and derogatory"
- "Definition of coloured in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
In Britain it was the accepted term until the 1960s, when it was superseded (as in the US) by black. The term coloured lost favour among black people during this period and is now widely regarded as offensive except in historical contexts
- "New York Times". September 18, 1851: 3.
- Malesky, Kee. "The Journey From 'Colored' To 'Minorities' To 'People Of Color' Facebook Twitter Google+ Email". NPR. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
- Neilly, Herbert L. Black Pride: The Philosophy and Opinions of Black Nationalism: A Six-Volume History of Black Culture in Two Parts AuthorHouse, 2005; ISBN 1418416657, page 237 (Google Books)
- Gates Jr, Henry Louis, Growing Up Colored, American Heritage Magazine, Summer 2012, Volume 62, Issue 2
- Gates Jr, Henry Louis, Colored People: A Memoir, (Vintage, 1995), ISBN 067973919X.
- "Derogatory Racial Terms to Avoid in Public". racerelations.about.com. About.com. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
Some people may think it's okay to simply shorten that phrase ["people of color"] to "colored," but they're mistaken. Like "Oriental," "colored" harkens back to an era of exclusion, a time when Jim Crow was in full force, and blacks used water fountains marked "colored" and sat in the "colored" sections of busses, beaches and restaurants. In essence, the term stirs up painful memories.
- "Lohan calls Obama 'colored', NAACP says no big deal". Mercury News. November 12, 2008.