The Evolution of Terminology: From "Colored People" to "People of Color

Alexander Wright

Updated Sunday, March 3, 2024 at 10:55 AM CDT

The Evolution of Terminology: From "Colored People" to "People of Color

Understanding the Shift in Language and its Impact on Identity

In the late 80s or early 90s, a new term emerged in an attempt to contrast with the term "white" - "people of color." This shift in terminology aimed to emphasize the individuality and diversity of non-white individuals. However, it is important to understand the historical context and the reasons why certain terms, like "colored people," are considered offensive.

During the Jim Crow era in the United States and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the term "colored people" was used to segregate and discriminate against non-white individuals. This historical baggage has led to its classification as an offensive term. In contrast, "people of color" puts the person first and acknowledges that their identity is not solely defined by the color of their skin.

Similarly, the use of "people with disabilities" instead of "disabled people" follows the same principle of putting the person first. This approach respects individuals as unique individuals and avoids defining them solely by their disabilities. Language plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions and attitudes, as we acquire language features from those we spend time around and admire. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the impact of our words and strive to sound inclusive and respectful.

The offensiveness of a word or phrase is not solely determined by its etymology or morphology. It is also influenced by how it is used, by whom, and for what purpose. Neologisms, or newly coined words or phrases, can either become dated embarrassments or be fully absorbed as standard language. The acceptance and understanding of terminology evolve over time, reflecting the changing values and perspectives of society.

There is an ongoing debate about the need for terms like "people of color" and whether they are truly inclusive or exclusive. Some argue that the term "African American" is politically correct but not applicable to all black people, as not all of them directly descend from Africa. In addressing ethnic minorities in a specific country or area, the focus should be on using terms like "ethnic minorities" rather than getting caught up in debates about the most politically correct label or which ethnicities to include or exclude.

The offensiveness of a word or phrase is often tied to the times and places it was used, as well as the historical baggage associated with it. The term "people of color" emerged as an earnest attempt to introduce a new, more inclusive term. Whether this term will age well or become deprecated remains to be seen, as language is constantly evolving.

It is essential to recognize that the concept of being offended by certain terms or phrases is subjective and can vary from person to person. The choice of terminology should prioritize respecting individuals as unique individuals rather than focusing on their classification. Over time, the perception of what is considered offensive or politically correct can change, leading to shifts in terminology.

The evolution of terminology from "colored people" to "people of color" reflects a broader societal shift towards emphasizing individuality and diversity. The focus should be on addressing ethnic minorities in a specific country or area, rather than getting caught up in debates about the most politically correct label. The term "people of color" is not meant to exclude white people but rather to highlight the experiences and perspectives of non-white individuals. As language continues to evolve, it is crucial to use terminology that promotes inclusivity and respect.

Noticed an error or an aspect of this article that requires correction? Please provide the article link and reach out to us. We appreciate your feedback and will address the issue promptly.

Check out our latest stories