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The problem with ‘people of color’: It implies whiteness is the default

The problem with ‘people of color’: It implies whiteness is the default
Big Color Wheel V, 2018 — Oil on canvas — Photo: Jaime Acioli. Courtesy Gagosian. (Adriana Varejão / For The Times)

To the editor: Nadra Widatalla is right that the term “people of color” erases black people, but I would retire it for a different but related reason: It privileges whiteness.

Obviously, the terms “black” and “white” are metaphorical when applied to human skin, whose actual color range is more like pale peach to dark greyish-brown. (And, of course, “black” and “white” are loaded words with deeply ingrained negative and positive connotations, at least in Western languages).

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Calling non-Caucasians “people of color” posits Caucasians as colorless, as a default from which other colors are a variation, like the white canvas that other colors are applied to. It does not locate Caucasian skin colors as equal points along the continuum of humanity.

We need to change our thinking and our language to reflect reality, which is why it’s time to retire ”people of color.”

Kay Gilbert, Manhattan Beach

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To the editor: I was about to be persuaded by the author’s eloquent plea to get rid of the term “people of color,” but then I noticed on the same day’s op-ed page a piece by columnist Virginia Heffernan, who uses that exact phrase to end her evaluation of former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign kickoff: “His savior complex, in particular, is in danger from the women and people of color who are his rivals for the Democratic nomination.”

Then I saw a photograph, also in Sunday’s newspaper, of Trump supporters greeting him at an April 27 rally in Green Bay, Wis., none of whom appeared to be, well, people of color.

Apparently, the term “people of color” still has some value and is not ready to be retired yet.

Dienyih Chen, Redondo Beach

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