Why I dislike the term person of colour (POC)

“People are uncomfortable with outright saying ‘black’ and using racial descriptors, which is a bit frustrating because we are who we are, and it shouldn’t be awkward to call someone tall, short, black, white etc.” Comfort A Moye on disliking the term person of colour (POC)…

Comfort A Moye, 21, lives in Hackney, north-east London – where she was raised – and is studying anthropology at university while working part time as a cashier in a menswear retailer.

“The term ‘people of colour’ insinuates that people are ‘coloured’ which is problematic because of the context of the word within Apartheid and the Civil Rights Movement. It also brings to light the fact that white is not deemed a colour and therefore is the human default, which it is not.

It’s very interesting going on to social media and seeing the terms WOC (woman of colour) and POC (person of colour) thrown around and almost used as a buzzword, as though we face all of the same struggles. While issues such as racism and micro-aggressions might be shared, not every ‘POC’ has an afro or dark skin. In a lot of cases, people are being lazy and avoiding direct descriptors like ‘black’. Each struggle is unique and we should not be lumped together as a whole ‘other’ group.

Where does person of colour (POC) originate?

From what I have read, it has been used since the 18th century as a term to describe someone of mixed African and European descent. More recently, following the Civil Rights Movement, it has become the politically correct term for people who are non-white and seeks to avoid the black vs white binary. It is used in both UK and US academia, politics and journalism and I guess for some it’s an label easy to use.

I have always believed that identity is a self-concept and you have the right to identify as you wish. My parents are both from Nigeria and came to the UK when they were in their 20s. I grew up eating both Nigerian and British meals, speaking English and Yoruba, so I really have taken on the best of both worlds. I proudly identify with both cultures!

TV shows have basically all white casts and in everyday conversation, the guy or girl is assumed to be white unless we explicitly say ‘a black guy was walking down the street’

To my friends, I guess they just see me as person and I’d like to say wouldn’t hesitate to describe me as black since I have demonstrated that I am comfortable with this. With strangers in the UK, I have observed that many are uncomfortable with outright saying black and using racial descriptors which is a bit weird and frustrating because we are who we are, and it shouldn’t be awkward to call someone tall, short, black, white etc.

Society assumes ‘white’ to be the norm

You walk into Superdrug, 95% of the make-up/foundation shades don’t cater for you. Fashion and beauty standards are very Eurocentric across the globe, TV shows have basically all white casts and in everyday conversation, the guy or girl is assumed to be white unless we explicitly say ‘a black guy was walking down the street’. It’s annoying to not even be considered a consumer and to be excluded from the feeling of living and not existing on the margins.

I have realised that an extension of white privilege is the entitlement to being recognised. If I am taking down customer details, ‘Joe Bloggs’ assumes that he is universal and you should be able to spell his name. Whiteness is not the human default, the last time I checked, two-thirds of the world don’t fit into this ‘norm’.

Growing up, I went to a predominantly white primary school and excelled, then I went to a predominantly black secondary school and also excelled. I was fortunate enough to never feel as though I was different, and I owe a lot to my teachers for always believing in me and reinforcing the fact that I could do anything with hard work.

On experiencing racism

Where do I begin?! It’s quite sad that it becomes so normal and we learn to manoeuvre around things that shouldn’t be a thing. When I went travelling in South America, I began to encounter overt racism with people staring/shouting at me wherever I went and laughing at me. I can go as far as saying that I was treated so differently in the children’s home I worked in that I wanted to fly back home – it was one of the saddest but also character defining experiences of my life.

The more subtle ways have been through dating and everyday life. People not wanting to sit next to you on a packed bus, people clutching their purses or slowing down so you can walk ahead of them, guys projecting their racial fetishes on you, there are so many more. There are moments when you just have to curl up and cry, and you have to be cool with that.

I would love to see a Hollywood rom-com with Lupita Nyong’o playing the love interest and going out for coffee and lunch dates in bistros with her diverse group of friends

I have both black and white friends who agree that the terms ‘POC’ and ‘WOC’ are incredibly isolating and continue the process of othering. I try to open up conversations to gain different perspectives. Some of my friends who are black don’t mind too much, others mind a lot. The very fact that people, however few, are uncomfortable with this terminology should really prompt a review of its use.

I can be honest and say that there are only certain people who take an interest in these things, and truth be told many of my black friends aren’t so concerned. Some of my white friends have been great ears and very open and willing to have uncomfortable discussions with me. Having allies and people who care about you take time to listen, understand and take action to change things is refreshing.

In an ideal world we would be open and use the physical descriptors i.e. tall, short, black, white, freckles, slim, colour of clothing. What is the shame in calling things as we see them?

I don’t see how beating around the bush can ever be beneficial. If I wanted you to get something from my car, I’d say it was shiny, red, new and so on. How useful would it be for you if there were ten red cars parked up? Wherever you go in the world, people describe others using descriptors to distinguish one person from another – be it hair, complexion, body type or height.

The media plays a part in everything – especially race and a lot that goes with it. From what I have seen, it’s a question of extremes. I can count on one hand the number of positive role models or characters that I can identify with. You are either in a hoodie on a council estate and involved in crime, or a high-flying lawyer living in suburbia. What happened to all the people in between?

There needs to be a call for fair representation. I, for one, would love to see a Hollywood rom-com with Lupita Nyong’o playing the love interest and going out for coffee and lunch dates in bistros with her diverse group of friends. For once, can I please not see myself being whipped as a slave or the cool and sassy stereotype that society wants to project on you. It’s quite traumatic.

As a disclaimer, I don’t speak for everyone and appreciate that each person’s experience differs from the next.”

What are your thoughts on the terms person of colour (POC) and woman of colour (WOC)? Let us know in the comments below…

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