notes on what to call people of color

There are scholarly terms, like ‘race’, ‘class’, ‘gender’, ‘oppression’, ‘racism’ and those ones are the ones that scholars and citizens debate about. Then there are political terms which have been articulated by people in the process of making political struggle. It wouldn’t be fair for us to redefine those terms. Those include the words ‘Chicano’, ‘Latino’, ‘Asian American’, ‘feminist’.

So I’m going to introduce a few terms of the second type. ‘Chicano’ was a term that was created by people living in the Southwest US and the Northwest part of Mexico to describe themselves. It makes reference to territory ¾ a territory which denies the US-Mexico border and also to the fact that there is a cultural mixing between the indigenous indian people who lived there and other groups from Spain and from other parts of Mexico with whom there was cultural mixing. This term was created in the 1960s as part of the Mexican-American youth movement.

The word ‘Latino’ is a more recent creation, which was forged politically as a way to include all the people from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Chicanos who came from those cultures which are mixes of African, Indigenous Indian, and Spanish. So it is an international political formation. Asian American is another such term which acknowledges all Asian immigrants to the US. And that also came out of the attempt to organize a lot of different language, cultural, and nationality groups together to deal with things that affected them all.

‘People of color’ is another political term which was created by Asian American, African American, Latino, and Native American People as a term of unity to describe all of them and also to be an international term that also included third world people.

Black Americans call themselves ‘Black’ and also use the term ‘African American’. Some feel that ‘Black’ is derogatory and prefer to link themselves to Africa; others feel they have little relationship to Africa. I try to go back and forth in my usage, to acknowledge both.