Document Type


Publication Date



This Article explores the history of the term “people of color” and its current status in a country struggling to overcome its racist origins. The murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other victims of state violence have generated profound anger, calls for action, and demands for dialogue. It is undoubtedly simplistic to assert that words matter. But accurate descriptions are essential for honest conversations, and words convey meanings beyond their syntax. In discussions about race and racial identity, the term “people of color” is routinely used as the antipode to the white community. Yet little thought is given to its etymology or meaning. Through the use of historical documents, including many from the colonial era, and recent data compiled from search engine queries and social media activity, this Article reveals that the term “people of color” has a rich yet complicated heritage. For centuries, “people of color” was a term with legal significance. While it no longer defines rights, its use still matters. Today, we should embrace this collective terminology because it reflects a shared history among diverse communities and generates power against hierarchy. Because the white community serves as the antipode to people of color, we must also interrogate this other example of collective terminology. To engage in honest conversations about race, power, and privilege, it is time to separate white(ness) from the white community.