“People of color” was first used in the French West Indies to indicate people of African descent who were not enslaved as “gens de couleur libre,” or “free people of color,” and scholars have found references to the term in English dating back to the early 1800’s.
American racial justice activists, influenced by Franz Fanon, picked up the term in the late 1970s and began to use it widely by the early 80s.
As an Indian immigrant, calling myself a person of color enabled me to identify with African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
The new identity freed me from the model-minority slot that I had been given by the media, politicians and by Americans themselves.
To build a multiracial movement, I had to expand my identity in a way that tied me to African Americans’ struggle to access the promise of the American dream, rather than as the ringer that would suppress that struggle.
“People of color” is now commonly used far beyond political circles, as “minority” fades into the category of things that used to be true.
It is past time for the media and the general public to embrace the phrase.
Rinku Sen is the President and Executive Director of the Applied Research Center (ARC) and the publisher of Colorlines.com.
Check out why this is issue is so important to Rinku Sen on CNN Blog