Have you ever heard or used the term ‘colour’ before? In what context did you use it or hear it being used? Do you think it is necessary term to use to distinguish people?
I sat in a tech conference in 2018 listening to this gorgeous lady from one of the global tech giant keep referring to herself and some of her colleagues as ‘People of colour’ as she outlined the challenges and benefits they face and take advantage of respectively. I was a bit distracted because the term she used in my opinion, kept reinforcing the great deep divide in our human race today rather than distinguish her uniqueness as a black person. She was making a strong point on technology, how it was shaping the world then and the coming future (including present day) and making references to how tech institutions like hers were taking advantage of the space to drive more inclusion and diversity with new talents. However, for a young Ghanaian who has worked in various teams in Africa, some parts of Europe, Asia and the US, I was getting distracted, listening to the repetitive term ‘people of colour’.
I had heard of it before. I understood what it meant and the context she used it, coming from the USA. What I did not get was why she would be using that for herself in the year 2018. After her panel discussion, I walked up to her with a compliment and calmly asked a couple of questions. “Why did you keep referring to yourself as a person of colour”? “Who is a person of colour to you and who isn’t”? “And what exactly is the definition of colour that doesn’t classify all of us as colours”? “Don’t you think white is a colour too”? She obviously did not expect that question amidst the other compliments and connection requests she was receiving. She fell silent for a while and I just stopped upon seeing her eyes moisten with tears she tried to fight back. At the tail end of a personalized explanation, she added, “you do not know what it means to grow up in the US as a Black person. We always have to go the extra mile to prove ourselves. That is the society I grew up in”
It is the year 2020 and I still hear the term ‘people of colour’ all over the place. Does this prove that not much has really changed? Does this tell us that there is still a long way to go as far as people being treated equally is concerned? Does this tell us non-white people still have to go the extra mile just to prove themselves as human enough? Does this not imply that so many people are unconsciously being forced to live their lives in comparison to white people?
The term “person of color” (plural: people of color, persons of color; sometimes abbreviated POC) is today primarily used to describe any person who is not considered white (Wikepedia). The term has been used to highlight and address systemic injustices of all forms usually directed at non-white people; Black, Hispanic, Interracial & Asian. Basically all non-white people collectively. From my perspective as a Black person, my colleague further explains to me that there are so many different types of non-white people (referring to Latinos, Caribbean, native American and many others) who do not or may not identify as black or Afrocentric, which is understandable. What tickles me is that the term being used somehow always puts people in comparison to white people, a comparison which in my opinion, should not be made at all.
When I joined PICHA, I was excited about the cause it existed for and I still am. PICHA recognizes the essence of the various colours people represent and sees a need to take a stand for one that is being under and misrepresented. PICHA is the authentic Afrocentric visual content provider founded on the realization that the perceptions of Africans in the world are not always the reality of Africans or black communities in the world. Our authenticity is more than just a word. It is who we are and what we offer and over time carefully curates diverse Afrocentric visuals that enable people, brands and businesses to tell richer stories that include modern Africans. PICHA believes that original stories can change perceptions and bring the voices, faces and stories of modern Africa to the world and the brands we serve.
While we tell stories about black communities through photography, PICHA is fundamentally dealing with the perception problem that has persisted through the years of racial injustice. A problem in my opinion the speaker from the tech giant was trying to address in herself and for her colleagues, which I believe was her perception of herself, still being defined in the context of how Black people had been treated in the past. She may not have been a direct victim of the past but the fact that she still considered herself a person of colour in her own eyes and through the lenses of another without realizing the other coloured lens showed me how deep the influences of PICHA must go in order to change these perceptions in the Black person’s mind and further changing the narratives that influences the perception that people have about one of the existing colours in the world today; the African colour, more specifically the colour Black, dealing with stereotypes and perceptions of being black.
The power of images to influence perceptions to me is like how majority of American action movies I watch are tied to ‘Russian nuclear war or Iranian and Afghan mischief’ which needs to be combatted by the US military or navy seals. Subconsciously, I began thinking all Russians were spies and Middle Eastern countries were terrorists. I made friends in Russia, Iran, Palestine, etc. and realized that was not true or fairly represented. Again, an image’s power is like the subconscious reinforcing of the perception (which has been challenged in recent past years) that Black people can only be relegated to a certain background or confined to a certain limits in the lifestyle movies I see on TV, playing roles such as the bad guy, poor family, dealing drugs, poor Africa, best fried of the popular white guy or girl that is at the beck and call. To me it is like hearing all about China and the inferiority that goes with Chinese people and their products only to travel to China and see in real time imagery, real families, meet amazing people with dreams and aspirations, people schooling, working, falling in love, visiting parents and friends, striving just like myself and anyone else to make the most of their lives.
This is the reason why I find PICHA’s authentic representation very important. Images create and influence both the conscious and subconscious perceptions of truth in the minds of people and the images PICHA curate are making strong cases for the Black person, that being Black is not about just being a people of colour but fundamentally being alive and human, having a life, family, friends, having needs and aspirations and doing amazing things in society.
Colour in itself is defined as the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light. The second definition is given as the pigmentation of the skin, especially as an indication of someone’s race. (Wikepedia) From these definitions, it is safe to say Lucky Dube was so right about the world being just ‘different colours but fundamentally one people’.
It is for this reason that when I was asked why I think Diversity matters, I answered because it takes different ingredients to make a good meal, different people to make a strong team, diverse ideas to arrive at a good solution. That the beauty of anything is in the harmony of its diverse components.
It is also for this reason that I have always been fascinated about the ‘Black Star’ in the Ghanaian national flag which is translated to represent ‘Hope for Africa’ because it gives me the opportunity to reprogram my mind and explore the absolutely unique possibility of a star being black. Think about it for a second; how does a black star shine? Is that even possible? Then again, it is for this same reason why I believe that one day we will wake up to the realization that the colour of darkness is not black nor the colour of light white, and we will be ashamed of the wide gaps we have created in society because of the needless negativity that has been carefully and systematically curated and associated over time with the Black and African race.
Now this is not to invalidate the life experiences of people from the past or turn a blind eye to the injustices that still exists, however when my colleague says to me that we can’t yet be treated equally until the playing fields are leveled and for that reason the term POC still being used, I ask myself “when does it end then”? “When do we ever get the playing field leveled whereby it will no longer be about which colour you identify with but just about being a unique human being”? Are we not all people of colour? Black, white, brown, green, red, yellow, etc., Are we not all pigmentations of humanity and is it not about time the term ‘People of Colour’ represents ALL people or none?
So if I may ask, how do you identify? Does it matter to you to be called a person of colour? Do you feel the connotations around the term POC swing to the positive or negative? Do you think it matters at all?