Essay:'Person of color' is a terrible phrase

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Note: I no longer like this essay; my views on the phrase have changed.

There's a wonderful bit in the American version of The Office, where Steve Carell's character, the well-meaning but completely moronic office manager Michael Scott, tries to demonstrate his non-racist credentials by saying to a black coworker, "Stanley, I don't look at you as another race." And the guy who had already come in to help with a diversity seminar explains to him, "That's just replacing ignorance with more ignorance... What we need is to celebrate our diversity." I think that's a great philosophy, which is why it saddens me to see so many liberal voices ignoring it.

I am referring, in case the title didn't give it away, to the relatively recent rise in popularity of the phrase "person of color," and variants thereof. This is supposedly a politically correct way to refer to non-white people, phrases like "non-white" and "minority" being offensive:

'People of color' was introduced as a preferable replacement to both 'non-white' and 'minority', which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; 'non-white' defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and 'minority' frequently carries a subordinate connotation.
—Wikipedia's article on the phrase

The problem here is that the phrase "person of color" seems more useful in establishing a writer's "sensitivity credentials" than actually combating racism. Sure, it uses the obligatory, currently fashionable techniques of person-first languageWikipedia and positive framing. But at the end of the day, it's a way of referring to everybody who isn't white as though "not being white" is some universal life experience that everyone who isn't white can supposedly relate to. In other words, it's still negatively defined, even if it's positively phrased.

The real problem with negatively defining a group is not one of sensitivity. It's the binary situation it creates. If everyone is either white or a person of color, it reinforces the same us-versus-them mentality that liberals have been striving to dismantle for decades. When there were only two races in the American mindset, black and white, it was easy to think of one group as superior and the other as inferior. In the twenty-first century, we regularly meet people of all sorts of different races, making those binary labels transparently meaningless. Why should we try to reintroduce them? Is regressing to the two-tiered racial caste system supposed to be a good thing? Why not embrace the fact that there are many different races living in America now, and cherish the differences? Why are we trying to force the mindset of "oppressor and oppressed", a situation we rightly detested anyhow, back into play when it no longer makes the slightest bit of sense?

It simply does not make sense to categorize everyone as either "white" or a "person of color." It strikes me as a lazy, pseudo-PC way of reinforcing old wars under a veil of combating them. We should instead work toward celebrating the diversity of the many races of our fine country and of the world today. We do ourselves and our fellow humans a disservice by pretending that they are all one uniformly oppressed minority. There is strength in diversity, and the way we refer to each other should reflect that.