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Voice Male--Winter 2006
People of Color, and the Color of Love
By César J. Alvarado
Imagine you are in the Deep South; the year is 1913. While walking into an old public building in search of water you see two water fountains. Above one, the cleaner one, a bold sign states, WHITES ONLY. Above the other, a sign says, COLORED ONLY. Which one can you use? Which one do you use?
The Jim Crow era fountain picture came to mind when I first heard the term "people of color" at a family violence conference. Now, it keeps popping up again and again every time I hear that phrase. I have worked in the progressive movement to end men's violence against women and children in several parts of the country. I have been and continue to be a part of various grassroots organizations and institutions in the forefront of the movement. My work has blessed me with the opportunity to have deep conversations with all kinds of people--about domestic violence, sexual assault, the nature of oppression, and other topics. These profound conversations have been with women, men, teens, Christians, atheists, Muslims, gays, transgenders, heterosexuals--people from various ethnicities, and an assortment of others.
I believe the last-named identifier, ethnicity, is the key when speaking about the term "people of color." Personally, I identify as a young Chicano on a spiritual path. I also identify as a poet, partner, son, brother, Tejano, friend, and the list could go on. If you challenge yourself to think about your own identity, you can more than likely come up with at least 14 terms. Sadly, the term "people of color" only focuses on one part of me, the color of my skin.
During the conversations mentioned above, I have spoken with others about the term. Many of them are as uncomfortable with it as I am. Some told me they hesitate when they hear it, and stutter ever so slightly when they use it themselves. The term is easy and lazy. An Anglo American who chooses to use the term can lump all "others" into this category. How convenient for them: not only are we being oppressed time after time by an Anglo American-controlled world, but we are also placed in the "non-Anglo American" category so effortlessly. This term and others are thus vital tools of oppression. Furthermore, using the term "people of color" seems like an uncomfortable step backward into the Jim Crow era of "colored people." Does anybody know the difference between colored people and people of color? If you sincerely want to get in touch with me and other Latinos, Africans, Asians, Natives, Jews, and so forth, you have to know who we are, not only who we have been. More important, please do not categorize us as who we are not--as not Anglo American, or in other words, not "white."
All of us have color. White is a color just like brown, black, and the other hues. Surprise, my Anglo American colleague! You are a person of color. Besides, what about my sisters and brothers in the movement who are light-skinned? Where do they belong? I have heard them talking about struggling with being a light-skinned person of color in a people of color group. Should they be ostracized because they are not dark enough? Or on the other hand, are they accepted into better positions because of their light skin?
Some of you may be saying, "What about the People of Color Institute, the Women of Color Network, and similar groups?" Others may be thinking, "What are we supposed to be called, then, or what do we call you?" Great! Lets ask each other and converse. However, please think about who you really are and who you want to be. Do you want to be a color--some-thing--or do you want to be celebrated as some-one?
I truly believe that we want and need to do better. We can gently demand that we be portrayed as the wonderful, complex beings that we are and resist being defined only by our color, whatever that color may be. Ultimately, I am hoping this article will spark discussion about the use of the term "people of color" both in and around the movement to end men's violence and beyond. Will the women who lead us please chime in? And the men who read this? The grassroots are growing and sending you a message. Do you want to have this discussion with us? I am confident the movement will reach out welcoming arms to those of us who know they are more than a "colored person" drinking from one water fountain or the other. Let us all drink from the same fountain ... the color of love.