This has always puzzled me. For college admissions and other decisions that involve meritocracy, Asian-Americans are not considered “people of color”. (When I refer to “Asian-Americans” in this post, I refer to East Asians, like the Chinese and Japanese, not to Asians from, say, the Middle East.)
We all know about the Harvard case, now appealed, in which the University unsuccessfully sued for (and, I think, was guilty of) discriminating against Asian and Asian-American applicants. In that case the group was hardly oppressed, and, in fact, could be seen as privileged. In terms of income, for example, Asian-Americans have a 32% higher median household income than American whites. Asians also do better in school, in terms of grades or achievements on standardized tests, which is why they are winnowed back at admissions time.
You’d be hard pressed to make a case that Asian-Americans are victimized in any meaningful way, and would have to resort to things like the (unconscionable) remarks made to some Asians when the pandemic hit, blaming them for coronavirus.
Yet Asian-Americans are indeed considered people of color, both in terms of self-description and for accounting purposes, like when a college gives the percentage of “faculty of color”. And when the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston held “Kimono Wednesdays”, many Asians reacted as if their culture was being ripped off, though (to be fair), some Japanese ladies showed up defending the kimonos worn by whites. Cultural appropriation, it’s often argued, can only come from a dominant culture stealing for an oppressed one.
And a sure sign of being oppressed is the HuffPost list of “voices” (i.e., news of the oppressed) which includes Asians:
I always understood that “people of color” referred not to pigmentation, which of course is correlated with oppression in America, but with oppression itself. That’s why Linda Sarsour, who is whiter than I, can consider herself a person of color, while Jews like me are automatically white, despite the pervasive oppression of Jews throughout history. What puzzles me is how you can be considered a person of color in general, but then that moniker disappears at college admission time or when paychecks are handed out.
It’s also true that Asian-Americans are underrepresented in the entertainment industry, though I’m not sure that this reflects bias rather than preference. Can you be a person of color when it comes to movie roles but not when you’re applying to Harvard?
Perhaps I don’t quite get the PoC term, because I didn’t think that, for a given group or gender, it applied in some situations but not in others. If you think you have a good handle on the term—or just want to discuss it—weigh in below.