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It's Past Time to Reclaim “Black”: When Being a POC Just Won’t Do Anymore

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

A dear friend and colleague recently called the United States a “salad” as opposed to a “melting pot.” I must agree. The only "melting" done was primarily among the European ethnicities and nationalities who all fall under the assignment of “white.” Nevertheless, there are as many nonwhite ethnicities and nationalities existing all over the world, all tossed together here in the United States inside a huge, virtual hollow bowl. Many say this is where the beauty of the nation rests, although the behavior of many of the nation’s people would portend otherwise. The most interesting feature of this metaphor is that this salad and the bowl within which we are all flung existed during the twentieth century as well. In fact, the individual ingredients of our tossed salad of humanity existed during the inception of the nation since most of the people living here today have a generational root elsewhere. This essay, however, isn’t about the salad bowl or its immigrant ingredients as much as it is about a particular group who were not immigrant but captive: Black descendants of the Enslavement; those colorful embellishments in the bowl I will call the black olives, and known now as part of an encapsulated people of color.

In the 20th century, “Integration,” or the “incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups,”[1] was placed at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement for Black equality, equity, opportunity and justice, as the antithesis of segregation or separation from white people. Indeed, integration was placed before the nation as a panacea and even as a plausible and more palatable definition of Jim Crow and the system of Racism, as though acceptance by the white majority through shared movement of Black and white bodies in formerly segregated spaces would be the end of systemic denial and discrimination specifically against Black people. Much like its sister term, inclusion, the 21st century also meant a move toward “the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.”[2]

Another important feature of the 20th century was the moniker accepted and used by Black people when referencing themselves. “Colored,” and “colored people” were the go-to terms for many Black and white liberal types since it appeared to be more subtle than the term, “Negro,” most obviously because Negro was a term very easily twisted into a derogatory derivative used by bigoted and supremacist white people. What is interesting to note is during the 20th century, virtually no other nonwhite person identified with this moniker. In fact, a parallel movement for rights by Asian people during the same period of the sixties did not see an intersection of their issues directly with Black people, and they did not consider themselves colored. Neither Indigenous people from America, Mexican people, or people who settled here from Latin American countries, as well as people from India, Northern Africa, or Arabic countries; anyone with what would be considered today as darker skinned or darker pigmented people, considered themselves “colored,” or “people of color if they lived in the United States in the 20th century. If they did, there was no Blackness of culture or ideology publicly shared with the Negro.

Even as Italian immigrants were castigated, vilified, lynched and terrified in many of the same ways as Black Americans during the early 20th century as well as described in the press as:

“…swarthy, kinky haired members of a criminal race and derided in the streets with epithets like dago, guinea — a term of derision applied to enslaved Africans and their descendants — and more familiarly racist insults like white nigger and “nigger wop…”[3]

they never considered themselves the same as the colored, American Negro and were actually considered by law as “legally white, with all of the rights whiteness entailed.”[3]

The Civil Rights movement was understood as a fight for equality for the coloreds, and colored people, as those terms related to people with exclusive ownership of that moniker, which were the Negroes, meaning, the only true people of color were the descendants of the Enslavement, whether born in this country or people who arrived from formerly colonized and enslaved countries in this hemisphere to live in the United States. In short, as far as the United States was concerned, the term colored people was reserved exclusively for people who were assigned that color by white people with the power to define us as “black” generations ago.

This is why there is a specific element of consternation that I find within this 21st century iteration of the terms, inclusion and people of color. In my view, the 21st century popularization of the term, “inclusion” was reduced to a metaphoric corralling; an opportunistic, euphemistically operative word accepted by people whose cultural, sociological, economic, political, legal and other institutional bent was on continued supremacism and maintenance through the system of Racism, and those who cosigned to it because of its generational convenience. Those who signed on simply by virtue of the desire for an existence in this nation within the literal meaning of the word, inclusion existed as well, the latter being the most innocent and easiest mislead by the former.

Furthermore, as was and continues to be the case with ongoing white supremacist dominance in this country, the difference between the reality of integration during the 20th century of white and Black people and the reality of inclusion in the 21st century appears to be a change in sharing: from sharing spaces and places to sharing identity. The original stated goal of sharing spaces and places with white people was replaced with an amalgamation of exclusively nonwhite people who had never before signed on to the moniker of “colored” in any other way prior to the 21st century, sharing identity with other nonwhite people simply on the basis of shared color, however, without any conceivable indication of also sharing identity with white people. What this new, shared identity among these newly minted people of color accomplished was a bonus to the supremacists who have been, for generations, trying to revise and bleach the black off the nation and its association with the Enslavement, Jim Crow and the system of Racism completely from its history.

And it has also worked well as a camouflage for liberals and progressive white people still trying to dilute their individual guilt and as a way to drown out the unique and consistent struggles of Black American descendants of the Enslavement, still swirling around and in between all the other ingredients in the bowl, in favor of including for the sake of inclusivity, with white people effectively and preferentially separated or segregated once again, living on the outside of the bowl altogether.

For the supremacists, inclusion definitely has its benefits. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t have become a euphemism in this century for the integration efforts of the 60s. Indeed, it would not have entered the lexicon of racialized language used to soften and re-envision the revision of American exceptionalism. Like Racism itself, it was retooled for a nation fixated by the perceived pigment of skin so it no longer had to include white people themselves, except to the extent of tolerating the diversity of people of color through inclusion. With terms such as inclusion, these supermacists can virtually hide the reality of steady denial of history, continued denial of opportunity, and criminal denial of state sanctioned violence against Black people in particular, while professing to work on behalf of people of color.

How might a benefit for supremacists be achieved?

Let’s take a look at the law known pejoratively as the Asian Hate Crimes law,” or the “Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act,” for an example. Especially heinous crimes against Asian people were proliferating because of highly bigoted rhetoric from the Trump administration and other Racist and Xenophobic individuals relative to the Covid-19 epidemic. It wasn’t as though the epidemic was a unique catalyst for the hatred, since Trump’s rhetoric on “America First” drew attention to anyone living in this country who were not assigned whiteness, and especially people who looked overtly diverse, as well as Jewish and Muslim people. The nation was rightly outraged about the violence, and efforts began in earnest to address the violence on local, state and federal levels as well. What was needed was an effective law to address and provide redress for hate crimes against Asian people. But here is the thing: there was already a Hate Crimes Law on the books for years. Of the many laws passed as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s legacy, the 1968 statute made it illegal to:

force to willfully interfere with any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin and because the person is participating in a federally protected activity, such as public education, employment, jury service, travel, or the enjoyment of public accommodations, or helping another person to do so. [4]

In 1996, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an expansion to the existing Hate Crimes Law:

“expanding the federal definition of hate crimes, enhancing the legal toolkit available to prosecutors, and increasing the ability of federal law enforcement to support our state and local partners.

According to the United States Department of Justice website, existing jurisdictional obstacles concerning prosecution of “certain race and religious violence” were removed and included additional protections for gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.[4] However, when reading the law, it becomes quite clear that the specificity and uniqueness of hate directed at Black people in the original Hate Crimes statute was not specifically addressed as thoroughly as the Asian population is addressed throughout the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act, and renders the original act useless regardless of its entry of the terms, race and color.

Moreover, when determining whether to use the existing law for the Asian community suffering under the weight of white nationalism and Xenophobia, it is also abundantly clear the Biden administration and legislature had to have realized the existing law was woefully inadequate as well. Therefore, the legislature opted to adopt a new law recognizing Asian people in particular, and incorporating into it both the new, "Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act,” and adding a provision known as the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act of 2021,[5] which quickly passed in both Houses and was signed into law by President Biden. Of particular interest is the reference in the law in support of an important provision of title 18 of the U.S. Code:

understanding of the national problem posed by hate crime is in the public interest and supports the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence,”

using 249(b)(1)(D) of title 18 [Bill states (C) not(D), typo in original bill].[5]. It would appear this provision as written into the bill means each hate crime meeting the qualifications as set forth in the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act can be automatically adjudicated without having to be “certified” by the state of record first, since the crime is already considered in the public interest and supports the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.”[5] Sadly, however, Black people are once again relegated to using the original law, still extremely inadequate and almost impossible for Black people to find any justice using it because the original Hate Crimes law relies on satisfying one of four certification requirements set in 18 U.S. Code § 249(4) (b) (1) (A-D), any of which may or may not be applicable or massaged into invalidity and non-applicability by a given state wishing to exert its states’ rights with the quiet acquiescence of a Sessions or Barr-type of Attorney General:

(b) Certification Requirement.—

(1) In general.—No prosecution of any offense described in this subsection may be undertaken by the United States, except under the certification in writing of the Attorney General, or a designee, that—

(A) the State does not have jurisdiction;

(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;

(C) the ver dict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence; or

(D) a prosecution by the United States is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.

For the Biden government, the necessity to show themselves working in the cause of "people of color," checks the "POC" justice box because it includes the new iteration of what white America accepts as people of color and appears to show their willingness to stop crimes against them.

The appearance of propriety is generally enough for white people who have allied with their interpretation of BLM as an acronym for the illusionary inclusion of all people of color.

The term, POC, needs to find its way into the trash dump of history the same way its predecessor, colored people did in the 20th century. There is no wonder why the BI was eventually added to the moniker of POC,[6] creating what could eventually become yet another alphabet soup of distinctions for the identity of people whose only relationship to each other is various pigmentation not considered among the perceived and coveted assignment of “whiteness” as superior value. Even with the advent of the letters, BI, to address Black and Indigenous Americans, the term no longer makes an adequate statement for Black descendants of the Enslavement. Like the seventies, when colored outlived its usefulness or ability to portray us as distinct and viable human beings, we coloreds chose Black and made ourselves proud of being assigned the color we were in relation to our history in a country bent on expunging its accountability to us. Therefore, it is time we reclaim Black as our unique identifier, for ourselves, as ourselves, we black olives in this American salad being increasingly tossed deeper into the bowl, threatening to crush us under the weight of other robust lettuce and other distinct veggies, fruits, meats and nuts. We are Black descendants of the Enslavement, and at least for me, POC just won’t do anymore.

Sources and References:

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