The term "person of color" (pl.: people of color or persons of color; abbreviated POC)[1] is primarily used to describe any person who is not considered "white". In its current meaning, the term originated in, and is primarily associated with, the United States; however, since the 2010s, it has been adopted elsewhere in the Anglosphere (often as person of colour), including relatively limited usage in the United Kingdom,[2] Canada,[3] Australia,[4] Ireland,[5] South Africa,[6] and Singapore.[7]

In the United States, the term is involved in the various definitions of non-whiteness, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, multiracial Americans, and some Latino Americans, though members of these communities may prefer to view themselves through their cultural identities rather than color-related terminology. The term, as used in the United States, emphasizes common experiences of systemic racism, which some communities have faced.[8][9] The term may also be used with other collective categories of people such as "communities of color", "men of color" (MOC), "women of color" (WOC),[10] or "librarians of color".[11] The acronym "BIPOC" refers to "black, indigenous, and other people of color" and aims to emphasize the historic oppression of black and indigenous people. The term "colored" was originally equivalent in use to the term "person of color" in American English, but usage of the appellation "colored" in the Southern United States gradually came to be restricted to "Negroes",[12] and is now considered a racial pejorative.[13] Elsewhere in the world, and in other dialects of English, the term may have entirely different connotations, however; for example, in South Africa, "Coloureds" refers to multiple multiracial ethnic groups and is sometimes applied to other groups in Southern Africa, such as the Basters of Namibia.


The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style cites usage of "people of colour" as far back as 1796. It was initially used to refer to light-skinned people of mixed African and European heritage.[10] French colonists used the term gens de couleur ("people of color") to refer to people of mixed African and European ancestry who were freed from slavery in the Americas.[14] In South Carolina and other parts of the Deep South, this term was used to distinguish between slaves who were mostly "black" or "Negro" and free people who were primarily "mulatto" or "mixed race".[15] After the American Civil War, "colored" was used as a label almost exclusively for black Americans, but the term eventually fell out of favor by the mid-20th century.[10]

Although American activist Martin Luther King Jr. used the term "citizens of color" in 1963, the phrase in its current meaning did not catch on until the late 1970s.[16][17] In the late 20th century, the term "person of color" was introduced in the United States in order to counter the condescension implied by the terms "non-white" and "minority",[18] and racial justice activists in the U.S., influenced by radical theorists such as Frantz Fanon, popularized it at this time.[19] By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was in wide circulation.[19] Both anti-racist activists and academics sought to move the understanding of race beyond the black–white dichotomy then prevalent.[20]

The phrase "women of color" was developed and introduced for wide use by a group of black women activists at the National Women's Conference in 1977.[21] The phrase was used as a method of communicating solidarity between non-white women that was, according to Loretta Ross, not based on "biological destiny" but instead a political act of naming themselves.[21]

In the twenty-first century, use of the term and the categorization continued to proliferate: for example, the Joint Council of Librarians of Color (JCLC), a recurring conference of the American Library Association, which uses the "of color" designation for its five ethnic affiliate associations. They include: the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, the American Indian Library Association, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, the Chinese American Librarians Association, and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking.[11]


The acronym BIPOC, referring to "black, indigenous, (and) people of color", first appeared around 2013.[22] By June 2020, it was, according to Sandra Garcia of The New York Times, "ubiquitous in some corners of Twitter and Instagram",[23] as racial justice awareness grew in the United States in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The term aims to emphasize the historic oppression of black and indigenous people, which is argued to be superlative and distinctive in U.S. history at the collective level.[24] The BIPOC Project promotes the term in order "to highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context".[25]

Political significance

According to Stephen Satris of Clemson University, in the United States there are two main racial divides. The first is the "black–white" delineation; the second racial delineation is the one "between whites and everyone else", with whites being "narrowly construed" and everyone else being called "people of color".[26] Because the term "people of color" includes vastly different people with only the common distinction of not being white, it draws attention to the perceived fundamental role of racialization in the United States. Joseph Tuman of San Francisco State University argues that the term "people of color" is attractive because it unites disparate racial and ethnic groups into a larger collective in solidarity with one another.[27]

Use of the term "person of color", especially in the United States, is often associated with the social justice movement.[28] Style guides from the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style,[29] the Stanford Graduate School of Business,[30] and Mount Holyoke College[31] all recommend the term "person of color" over other alternatives. Unlike "colored", which historically referred primarily to black people and is often considered offensive, "person of color" and its variants refer inclusively to all non-European peoples—often with the notion that there is political solidarity among them—and, according to one style guide, "are virtually always considered terms of pride and respect".[10]


Many critics of the term, both white and non-white, object to its lack of specificity and find the phrase racially offensive.[32][33][34] It has been argued that the term lessens the focus on individual issues facing different racial and ethnic groups,[35] particularly African Americans.[36] Preserving "whiteness" as an intact category while lumping every other racial group into an indiscriminate category ("of color") replicates the marginalization that the term was intended to counter.[37] Other commentators state that the term "people of color" is a misnomer and an arbitrary term in which people who are white are mislabeled as people of color.[36] People of color also encompasses various heterogeneous groups which have little in common,[38] with some arguing that American culture as a whole does not deliberate on economic inequality or issues of class.[38]

Political scientist Angelo Falcón argues that the use of broad terms like "person of color" is offensive because it aggregates diverse communities and projects "a false unity" that "obscure[s] the needs of Latinos and Asians".[39][40] Citing the sensitivity of the issue, Falcón suggested that there should be "a national summit of Black, Latino and Asian community leaders" to discuss "how can the problem of the so-called 'black/white binary' be tackled in the way it respects the diversity it ignores and helps build the broader constituency for racial social justice that is needed in the country" and to "open the way for a perhaps much-needed resetting of relations between these historically-discriminated against communities that can lead to a more useful etymology of this relationship".[39]

The use of the phrase person of color to describe white Hispanic and Latino Americans and Spaniards has been criticized as inaccurate.[41][42] The United States census denotes the term "Latino" as a pan-ethnic label, rather than a racial category, and although many Latinos may qualify as being "people of color", the indiscriminate labeling of all Latinos as "people of color" obscures the racial diversity that exists within the Latino population itself, and for this reason, some commentators have found the term misleading.[40][39]


The term BIPOC does not appear to have originated in the Black and Indigenous American communities, as it had been adopted much more widely among white Democrats than among people of color in a 2021 national poll.[43] Asian and Latino Americans have often been confused as to whether the term includes them.[44] The centering of Black and Indigenous people in the acronym has been criticized as an unnecessary, unfounded, and divisive ranking of the oppression faced by the communities of color.[45][46] The acronym's purposeful and definitional assertion that the historical and present-day suffering experienced by Black and Indigenous people is more significant in kind or degree than that of other non-white groups has been described as casting communities of color in an oppression Olympics that obscures intersectional characteristics, similarities, and opportunities for solidarity in the struggle against racism.[47] Critics argue that the systems of oppression foundational to U.S. history were not limited to the slavery and genocide suffered by Black and Indigenous Americans, but also included the Asian American and Latino American experiences of oppression under the Chinese Exclusion Act and the doctrine of manifest destiny.[48] Noting that "Black and Indigenous people are not at the center of every contemporary racial issue",[49] other commentators have found it problematic that the ascendancy of the term coincided with the pronounced rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.[48] By rendering Asian Americans as an unnamed "remnant", critics argue that the acronym renders the racial discrimination they experience invisible, thereby perpetuating harmful model minority and perpetual foreigner stereotypes.[50] Some critics advocate a return to "POC" for its emphasis on coalition-building,[48][51] while others call for a contextual approach that names "the groups actually included and centered in the arguments themselves".[52] The term has also been criticized for being redundant.[53][23]

See also


  1. ^ Jackson, Yo (2006). Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. p. 77. ISBN 9781412909488. For example, the person of color (POC) racial identity model describes racial identity development for people of color...
  2. ^ Askari, Javahir (October 10, 2019). "The Political Correctness of 'People of Colour'". Political Animal Magazine. this year Amber Rudd had to apologise for calling fellow MP Diana Abbott a 'coloured woman' and admitted the term was 'outdated and offensive'... The politically correct term at present is 'People of Colour' (abbreviated to PoC).
  3. ^ Adam, Mohammed (June 11, 2020). "Adam: Why the term 'people of colour' is offensive to so many". Ottawa Citizen. it is inevitable that Canadians will absorb and be influenced by aspects of American culture – good and bad. But one that, regrettably, Canadian media are adopting with increasing regularity is the American term "people of colour" to describe all those who are not white.
  4. ^ Pearson, Luke (December 1, 2017). "Who identifies as a person of colour in Australia?". ABC Radio National. POC, which stands for person of colour, is a term I have heard used more and more in Australia over the past few years, especially online.
  5. ^ Freyne, Patrick (June 18, 2020). "People of colour in Ireland need allies 'not bystanders'". The Irish Times. Dr Ebun Joseph held an online conversation with people of colour living in Ireland.
  6. ^ Pillay, Verashni (February 23, 2015). "Six things white people have that black people don't". Mail & Guardian. Guess what else most people of colour in this country have to pay for once they get their first job?
  7. ^ Thanapal, Sangeetha (March 4, 2015). "Chinese Privilege, Gender and Intersectionality in Singapore: A Conversation between Adeline Koh and Sangeetha Thanapal". b2o: an online journal. As a person of colour living in a supposedly decolonized Singapore, I would say that what makes our struggles markedly different from minorities in the West is that we have to deal with Whiteness on top of Chinese supremacy.
  8. ^ Franklin, Anderson J.; Boyd-Franklin, Nancy; Kelly, Shalonda (2006). "Racism and Invisibility". Journal of Emotional Abuse. 6 (2–3): 9–30. doi:10.1300/J135v06n02_02. ISSN 1092-6798. S2CID 142971567.
  9. ^ Alvin N. Alvarez; Helen A. Neville (March 1, 2016). The Cost of Racism for People of Color: Contextualizing Experiences of Discrimination. Amer Psychological Assn. ISBN 978-1-4338-2095-3.
  10. ^ a b c d Houghton Mifflin Company (2005). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (PDF). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 356.
  11. ^ a b Landgraf, Greg (January 2, 2018). "Blazing Trails". American Libraries. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  12. ^ Trigger, Bruce G. (1978). Northeast. Smithsonian Institution. p. 290. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  13. ^ Butterly, Amelia (January 27, 2015). "Warning: Why using the term 'coloured' is offensive". BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  14. ^ Brickhouse, Anna (2009). Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere. Cambridge University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0521101011.
  15. ^ Powers, Bernard. Black Charlestonians: a Social History 1822-1885. University of Arkansas Press, 1994
  16. ^ William Safire (November 20, 1988). "On language: People of color". The New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2008.
  17. ^ "The Black Press at 150", editorial, The Washington Post, March 18, 1977
  18. ^ Christine Clark, Teja Arboleda (1999). Teacher's Guide for in the Shadow of Race: Growing Up As a Multiethnic, Multicultural, and "Multiracial" American. Routledge. p. 17. The term People of Color emerged in reaction to the terms "non-white" and "minority". … The term people of color attempts to counter the condescension implied in the other two.
  19. ^ a b Rinku Sen (July 10, 2007). "Are Immigrants and Refugees People of Color?". ColorLines. Archived from the original on April 18, 2010. Retrieved December 8, 2008.
  20. ^ Elizabeth Martinez (May 1994). "Seeing More Than Black & White". Z Magazine. Retrieved June 27, 2008.
  21. ^ a b Wade, Lisa. "Loretta Ross on the Phrase "Women of Color"". Sociological Images. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
  22. ^ Garcia, Sandra E. (June 17, 2020). "Where Did BIPOC Come From?". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2020.
  23. ^ a b Garcia, Sandra E. (June 16, 2020). "Where Did BIPOC Come From?". The New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  24. ^ Sager, Jessica (June 9, 2020). "What Does BIPOC Stand For? What the Phrase Means and Why It's So Important". Parade. Archived from the original on June 9, 2020.
  25. ^ "BIPOC: What does it mean and where does it come from?". CBS News. 2 July 2020.
  26. ^ Satris, Stephen (1995). "'What Are They?'". In Zack, Naomi (ed.). American Mixed Race: The Culture of Microdiversity. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0847680139. Retrieved June 17, 2020.
  27. ^ Tuman, Joseph S. (2003). Communicating terror. SAGE. ISBN 978-0-7619-2765-5.
  28. ^ Maurianne Adams; Lee Anne Bell; Pat Griffin (1997). Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Psychology Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-415-91057-6.
  29. ^ Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 319
  30. ^ "Stanford Graduate School of Business Writing and Editing Style Guide" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 15, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
  31. ^ Mount Holyoke College. "Editorial Style Guide". Archived from the original on September 9, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
  32. ^ Lamuye 2017.
  33. ^ Bland 2020.
  34. ^ Young 2020.
  35. ^ Shoneye 2018.
  36. ^ a b Holzman 2015.
  37. ^ LA Times 2019.
  38. ^ a b Khan 2020.
  39. ^ a b c Falcon 2018.
  40. ^ a b Fowler 2020.
  41. ^ Lucía Benavides (February 9, 2020). "Why Labeling Antonio Banderas A 'Person Of Color' Triggers Such A Backlash". NPR. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  42. ^ Laborde, Antonia (January 17, 2020). "Is Spain's Antonio Banderas an 'actor of color'?". EL PAÍS.
  43. ^ Amy Harmon (November 1, 2021). "BIPOC or POC? Equity or Equality? The Debate Over Language on the Left". The New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  44. ^ Harmon 2021.
  45. ^ Deo, Meera E. (2021). "Why BIPOC Fails". Virginia Law Review Online. 107: 115–142. ISSN 1942-9967.
  46. ^ Andrea Plaid; Christopher MacDonald-Dennis (April 9, 2021). "'BIPOC' Isn't Doing What You Think It's Doing". Newsweek. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  47. ^ Deo 2021, p. 126-130.
  48. ^ a b c Plaid 2021.
  49. ^ Deo 2021, p. 126-127.
  50. ^ Deo 2021, p. 135-136.
  51. ^ Mistinguette Smith (May 11, 2021). "After Asian American Hate, I'm Reclaiming Racial Solidarity and the Term 'People of Color'". USA Today. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
  52. ^ Deo 2021, p. 142.
  53. ^ Moore, Teresa (3 February 2022). "Opinion: Why I want BIPOC to go away". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 2023-03-24.

External links