I used to think that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s name was anachronistic, but now since so many willingly refer to Black people as “colored people” or “people of color” clearly it is reflective of current sensibilities. I do find this quite interesting.
To be sure, I do not use these terms to refer to us (Africans/Black people). Identifiers are, as is all else, political. They can anchor one in a consciousness that is dynamic and compelling with respect to a grander vision of social possibility or they can moor one to visionlessness. I see no grand conception of our peoplehood in terms like “people of color” or “colored people”. They seem both generic and impotent to my thinking.
My rejection of this term is based on the following criticisms:
- Many so-called people of color are defined as such within the borders of the US, but may be a part of dominant racial, ethnic, or caste groupings in their home countries. Therein, given the global prevalence of anti-Blackness these groups may be actors in the on-going subjugation of Black people in their homelands. Does one, by simply crossing the US border become filled with an overwhelming sense of solidarity with Black people and their on-going struggle for freedom while regarding the Blacks of one’s homeland with loathing and derision?
- The term, by virtue of its generic nature, posits a shared reality among so-called POC, but we know that many groups position themselves in various ways in relation to the hegemony of Whites in US society. Some may identity themselves as White due to the material advantages afforded Whites. Others may attempt to assimilate themselves into Whiteness via the acts of marriage and procreation. Still others may participate in or sanction the subordination and exploitation of other racialized and oppressed groups, such as Africans/Blacks for their own advantage as in the case of many non-Black merchants who operate commercial businesses in Black communities.
- The term is used increasingly in contexts where clearly Black/African people are the subject of discussion. It is as if by generalizing the discourse to an amorphous body of racialized and oppressed people (i.e., “POC”), that one’s language may prove more satisfactory or less disconcerting. It does beg the question as to who such sterile language is intended to assuage in the first place. One must also ask whose experience is being erased in the process of such speech acts.
- I am reminded that during the Black Power era there was no revolutionary politics that argued vociferously on the basis of such an ambiguous identity. Formations and theories of liberatory struggle drew substantively upon notions of Blackness or Africanness. There was a reason for this, and this is at the heart of my thinking.
For me, much of the problem with terms such as POC is based on the fact that they do not arrive at what one actually is—an African whose ancestors were kidnapped, tortured, and assaulted in an attempt to both forge America and to neutralize one’s determination to resist domination. This question of resistance is ultimately, I believe, at the heart of why an African identity is so powerful in contrast to a more generic one. We find that much of the resistance to enslavement was driven by a very clear consciousness among the enslaved of who they were. This is especially so among the maroons whose very actions rejected the logic of White domination, the structural arrangements of that domination, and posed another paradigm reflective of core elements of an African worldview. This means that the maroons did not only resist enslavement, they sought to establish an African way of life on alien soil and to make their reclaimed sovereignty the basis of their resistance to those forces opposed to African freedom. Herein we find the conjoined components of sovereignty and culture as key bases of African life reasserted in a contested milieu. Hence the maroon struggle was indelibly an act of African resistance.
Some will insist that the conception of Africanness is not by default one of resistance, however given the significance of African culture and the imperative of sovereignty as a necessary condition for the full expression of one’s culture, Africanness becomes, in the milieu of European terror, a site of resistance out of necessity. In fact, Dr. Marimba Ani has declared that “To be Afrikan is the revolutionary act of our times.” The key element of this statement is the use of the verb be. As to be Afrikan—in Dr. Ani’s conception and in the conception of those many ancestors who struggled, fought, and died for African freedom and self-determination—is to be engaged in the work of the restoration of African sovereignty and the reclamation of African culture. To be African is to understand both of these processes as necessarily requiring the elimination of all forces opposed to that sovereignty and the cessation of cultural mis-orientation as an inescapable barrier to the full expression of the African ethos. Thus, to be African on this basis is to embrace the politics of revolutionary struggle and to recognize the distinctiveness and specificity of Black struggle. It is not to be some amorphous “person of color” or a “colored person”. It is not a politics based on an erasure of one’s distinctiveness as an African.
I am an African. I am not a “person of color”.