“People of color” means what?

When using the phrase, we must not overlook the details of ethnic and racial diversity.

Jasper Johnson

Here on campus, the student group Asian and Pacific Islanders for Equity and Diversity has been protesting the restructuring of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence. The group is upset because this restructuring has witnessed the firing of several critical voices in the Asian and Pacific Islander community. 
 
When considering social justice, we need to remember to distinguish between various groups of people of color. Different racial minorities undergo different experiences, and lumping everyone under the same label fails to serve communities equally. In other words, when we use the term “people of color,” it sometimes lends itself to an oversimplified misrepresentation of the rich diversity among minorities in the United States. 
 
Nevertheless, the term is frequently used by those who claim to fight racism most vocally, including leftists and progressives. A key argument against the term, in my mind, is its inability to acknowledge different cultural backgrounds and identity distinctions. For example, someone growing up in north Minneapolis has different experiences from someone growing up in Dubai. 
 
The point is that people of color don’t all undergo identical experiences in life — or on campus. The term “people of color” is useful in a handful of circumstances, like talking about racism at the hands of white Americans. However, it still lacks meaningful distinctions. 
 
With what we’ve seen at MCAE and APIs for Equity and Diversity, our efforts to increase diversity need to pay enough attention to every minority group and not simply address a constructed, homogeneous “person of color.”