On racism and the labeling of ‘people of color’

07/01/2020

The momentous protests in support of Black Lives Matter represent a landmark movement for all of the oppressed, calling for justice and exposing the deep-seated hypocrisy of American exceptionalism. The “I can’t breathe” of George Floyd is the prototype of all racial suffering. 

Systemic racism in our country is caught in a double bind: a denial of our own failed democracy and our self-righteous notion of humane justice that we lord over other countries. This nation was founded on the Doctrine of Discovery used by European monarchies as spiritual, political and legal justification for the seizure of territories outside of Europe allegedly discovered by explorers touting Christian domination and white superiority—in Africa, Asia, the Americas and the lands of Oceania. The doctrine was invoked as a Papal decree in 1493, the year after Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of what is now known as North America. Shockingly, this declaration is still not eradicated in American politics.

What does this archaic decree have to do with a progressive-thinking white population in which some are not xenophobic or don’t view themselves as racist? It is intrinsic in white Americans’ collective psyche to be entitled to economic, social and legal privileges, whether subtle or obvious. Non-white citizens and residents, while acquiescing to varying degrees through insecurities of social positioning, unequal living conditions, health care, income, education, inequities in law enforcement and more, have to endure humiliating or angry racial slurs hurled at them or violence done to them because of the color of their skin.

Because the seat of power in America is white, its people are immune to being challenged to “go home” to where their ancestors came from. Whenever this fundamental racist premise is confronted, it gets sidetracked into the current trends of the “white fragility” catchphrase.

The mass labelling of non-white ethnicities as “people of color” has a twisted history. The term was actively and insidiously promoted as a uniform expression in the late 1980s by white intellectuals, displacing the more respectful expression “ethnic diversities.” It is a demeaning and patronizing classification—setting apart white as a non-color or a superior color—and it has dismayed many ethnic groups. The expression is but a variation of the “coloured people” of the pre-Civil Rights era. 

The term “people of color” gradually gained traction over the last 20 years, subliminally re-programming mass consciousness. Many ethnic think tank assemblies bristle at this tagging while activist clusters have settled for it as a connector to bond all subgroups into a united front. 

We must drop this institutional racist narrative and embrace a uniting internationalism that is descriptive of our roots and legends, as people of cultures. Let us support and encourage a global consciousness, a multilingual, cross-cultural educational system, and a societal framework to match. That way, all peoples, especially white ones, can learn to become equal citizens of the global community. We must not subscribe to the mindset of racist labelling that denies and obfuscates the cultural heritage and historical roots of all ethnic richness.

Until white Americans, and those of us non-whites who think we have integrated into the ethos of this society, rise together to transmute the denial of these shadows into policy, societal and behavioral changes, we are only deluding ourselves. 

The American psyche remains isolated from the rest of the world. We are the only country in the world that does not care to learn a second language, feeling entitled that the world should speak English. Nor do we make real efforts to understand other ethnicities who form the melting pot of this country. We need to learn together, listen deeper and engage in activism for equality and justice to put a stop to divisions, ignorance and institutional racism.

On a local level, Francis Drake’s claim on this region as Nova Albion for England and the capitulation of the Coast Miwok and its neighboring tribes were blatant manifestations of the Doctrine of Discovery. Drake seized this new land in 1579, after his battered ship was repaired and his crew nursed back to health by the kindness of the indigenous people. Yet Drake, an invader and slave trader, was financed and knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and his namesake is the longest boulevard spanning cities through Marin County. 

I am heartened to see that the petition to change this defiling street name made the June 18 front page of this newspaper. This dialogue coming front and center could serve as a call to action toward karmic healing.

Let us continue the significant dynamism awakened by the passion of anti-racism protests in which many white people participated and which extend to many countries in the world. Let us be the embodiment of Light—standing together—in embracing people of all cultures in one shared humanity.

 

Jacqueline Sa supports the local Latino community and helps relieve the plights of the homeless. A resident of Inverness, she is also engaged with ecovillages in China and Europe.