I admit it. When I see the expression “person of color” used seriously, I stop reading. It is an indication that the writer is a fool, and probably a knave.
What does it mean? It has been around since the 1790s, but only recently has gained its present ideologically loaded meaning of “person belonging to an ethnic group that is or has been enslaved, colonized, persecuted or insulted by people of European ancestry.”
There are implications that flow from the status of being a POC. On the one hand, a POC is seen to be fragile, needing to be protected from present-day “white” oppression or compensated for prior oppression. On American college campuses, POCs demand “safe spaces” where they can be safe from demeaning micro-aggressions that “white” students, no matter how high their level of racial consciousness is, cannot seem to stop committing. Reparations, affirmative action and other benefits are also assumed to be due to POCs in order to redress historical wrongs and to overcome existing bias.
On the other hand, POCs may express their rage at being oppressed in aggressive ways, and non-POCs are expected to understand this, and even accept it.
American intellectual circles are obsessed by the concepts of oppression and victimhood, having added everything imaginable to the mix in addition to color and ethnicity. Thus it is also possible to be victimized on the basis of biological gender or the practically infinite variations of gender consciousness or sexual preference; or on the basis of religion, age, disability, poverty or employment status. I am sure I’ve missed some. The ways the various forms of oppression interact is called “intersectionality,” so papers are written about precisely how much worse it is to be an LGBT POC than an LGBT white.
The problem is that there is nothing about a person that makes them a POC except that they feel like one. I’ll start by noting that there is no scientific basis for the concept of “race,” and that even if there were, it has little to do with who gets to be a POC. Who could be closer genetically than Israeli Jews and Palestinians? The average percentage of melanin in the skin of Israeli Jews is probably higher than that of Palestinian Arabs, but skin color has nothing to do with being a POC.
To tell if someone is a POC, you ask if he is or was oppressed because of who he is. A Chinese man who came to the US in the 19th century to work on the railroad was almost certainly a POC. His great-grandchildren who make six-figure salaries in Silicon Valley, maybe not so much. But their kids, who go to Berkeley and suffer from micro-aggressions when someone insensitively asks them “where are you from?” – they are POCs.
In other words, POC is defined in terms of oppression, which means that arguing that someone is oppressed because they are a POC is a circular argument.
Palestinians insist that they are POCs, and expect solidarity from other POCs like American blacks. This is because “they are both colonized peoples” – so say the descendents of the Arab colonialists who swarmed over the Middle East and much of Europe, and of the traders that captured hundreds of thousands of Africans and shipped them off to the New World to be slaves! Interestingly the Movement for Black Lives doesn’t find this cognitively dissonant at all.
It is assumed that there is a commonality, a “whiteness,” to the oppressors of all the various groups of POCs. “Whiteness” (or white, hetero, male, cis-ness when the gender concepts are included) is as poorly defined as that of POC. It simply means the powerful other that is oppressing the various classes of victims. This supports the idea that American blacks and Palestinians have something in common, namely that they are oppressed by “white people.” When this concept is analyzed, it turns out to have no content, because “white,” like POC, is circularly defined, in this case as an oppressor.
The concepts of colonizer and colonized, popularized by Frantz Fanon’s 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth, are embedded in the concept of POC. Who else in recent times is a colonizer but a white European? It’s unfortunate that Fanon also suggested that violent resistance to colonization is justified, because this seems to have given rise to the idea that in a conflict between POCs and non-POCs, the POCs are allowed to be violent (and the colonizers not). Certainly the Palestinians claim this all the time.
But if being a POC has to do with being colonized and subjugated, who in history was more colonized than the people of Judea, invaded successively by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans (the ones who decided to call it “Syria Palaestina” after trying to ethnically cleanse the Jews in 135 CE), Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and the British?
Indeed, the idea that Palestinians are colonized depends entirely on the fake history promulgated by the Arabs and their supporters. Their narrative tells us that their “people” lived in “Palestine” for hundreds or even thousands of years, before the European Zionists came along and threw them out. In reality, with the exception of the very small number that were descendants of the Arab colonizers of the 7th century (and those who were descended from Jews that the Romans missed in 135), most Palestinian Arabs came to the land in the 19th and 20th centuries as economic migrants.
This explains why there is so little specifically “Palestinian” content to their culture, which is much the same as that of the Arabs in the surrounding region. There is no language called “Palestinian,” and no unique religion. What true Palestinianism that exists comes from their conflict with the Jewish residents of the land in the past hundred years or so. Thus the Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, recently the subject of a controversy when his works were read at an event paid for by Israel’s Culture Ministry, was notable for his expression of Palestinian rage against the Jewish oppressors.
I submit that the American obsession with race and victimhood in general is a terrible idea, whose time should have passed long ago. The idea that POCs owe each other solidarity in the face of common “white” oppression is also nonsense. It should be obvious that there is absolutely nothing in common between the experience of American blacks and Palestinian Arabs.
The answer to the question posed by the title of this piece, therefore, is that it is a non-question. It might be a shock to students and faculty, but not everything is about race or gender.