A modest proposal: it’s time to ditch the phrase “persons of color” when used to refer to either oppressed people who are white or as a general cover-all term for minorities who consider themselves oppressed. That’s because many “persons of color” are really white, or at least white vis-à-vis skin pigmentation, while many people who do have some pigmentation aren’t oppressed or seen as oppressed.
Take (please!) Linda Sarsour, who referred to herself as a “white girl” until she put on the hijab, as the article below notes. And indeed, she is white—whiter than I am. She’s the descendant of Palestinians, born in America, and is not a person of any color. Nor did she see herself as one:
The headline above is a bit misleading, for, as you can hear below, Sarsour said she wears a hijab not to be seen as a person of color, but to show that she’s a Muslim. The important thing, though, is that before she donned the headscarf she considered herself a “white girl.”
I would argue that she mainly wears the hijab not out of respect for Islam, but to flaunt her supposed victimhood, which otherwise wouldn’t be visible in a “victimhood culture“. In fact, if your skin is white, there’s no way people can tell you’re a victim unless you put on a hijab.
— Elder of Ziyon 🇮🇱 (@elderofziyon) September 4, 2017
But we can see from this quote that now Sarsour does consider herself as a “person of color”, so clearly the hijab is equivalent to melanic pigmentation, and she says that more or less explicitly (my emphases):
In one profile, Sarsour said she wanted to become a high school teacher “inspiring young people of color like me.” The piece notes that The New York Times called her a “homegirl in a hijab” and that black nationalist Malcolm X’s autobiography “changed her life.” It adds, “For Sarsour, being identified as a person of color ‘is important in the political climate that we are in,’ she says, ‘because it allows for us to understand where we fit in in the larger political landscape. We fit in with marginalized groups, who oftentimes are other people of color.’”
Equally telling is the fact that Sarsour has taken part in openly segregated forums. At one point, she attended an event open to “all individuals (from ages 4 and up) who self-identify as women of color” from which white people were apparently barred.
But why can’t you fight for marginalized people without having to pretend you’re one of them? You know the answer: the fight is more than a fight for social justice, but also a way to display your own moral purity.
The article above also cites an admiring one at the Fader website:
After watching Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Dangerous Minds, Sarsour decided to become a high school teacher, “inspiring young people of color like me, to show them their potential.” She graduated a year early, gave birth to her eldest son, and enrolled in community college.
Then 9/11 happened — and suddenly, the oppression, violence, and discrimination she saw her black classmates experiencing felt much more personal. “People were like, ‘Linda, this apparatus, this racial profiling that you’re speaking of is impacting immigrant communities, black communities,’” she recalls. “I finally realized that my community was just an additional community that was being targeted.”
That was when Sarsour says she began to think about race more critically. In the U.S. Census, Middle-Easterners are categorized as “white,” but for Sarsour, being identified as a person of color “is important in the political climate that we are in,” she says, “because it allows for us to understand where we fit in in the larger political landscape. We fit in with marginalized groups, who oftentimes are other people of color.”
At end, author Atossa Abrahamian buys into Sarsour’s narrative that she’s a woman of color.
. . . .The dinner is the first time all day that Sarsour has seemed uncomfortable. She has little common ground on which to make small-talk, and she’s the only woman of color there. As she shares stories about the Women’s March and her experiences with post-Trump Islamophobia, I sense that she easily prefers being in the thick of the action to commenting on it from afar.
What Sarsour and Abrahamian mean by “color”, then, is “marginalization”. I would suggest, then, that “marginalized person”, or “member of a marginalized group” should be used instead of the pigmentation term. You can say “Palestinian,” or “African American” or “Asian”, or, if you refer to different ethnicities or genders, “Maginalized people”, all of which are more accurate than “people of color.”
And sometimes pigmentation is not an indication of marginalization. Several of my Middle Eastern friends who are light-skinned and not from Palestine are not considered people of color. Nor are Israelis, many of whom share both pigmentation and genes with their Middle Eastern neighbors. One could, I suppose, use pigmentation to see East Asians like Chinese and Japanese as “people of color”, but they’re not really marginalized in the U.S. Again, “color” isn’t equivalent to “oppression.”
Actually, it’s useless to try to get rid of the PoC term now, but we should at least clarify that it’s connected not with skin pigmentation, but with claimed marginalization. Yet that won’t even do, for it would be hard for a privileged Asian, say like Sarah Jeong, to say that she’s “marginalized”, because she isn’t. On the other hand, it’s easy for her and her defenders to say she’s a person of color, and therefore by proxy marginalized. This is why the whiter-than-white Linda Sarsour would much prefer to call herself a “person of color” than a “marginalized person”. The former will fly; the latter will not.
And on that note, I’ll recommend an article in Quillette by Bradley Campbell, who, with coauthor Jason Manning, wrote a book I like and wrote about (see also here): The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars. In that book, Campbell and Manning describe three types of “moral cultures”: dignity culture, honor culture, and victimhood culture, which is the current culture on campus and a hybrid of the first two. If you don’t want to plow through the whole book, the article below (click on screenshot). It’s a very good summary of Campbell and Manning’s thesis:
The article begins with a chilling but true story of the fate of Samuel Abrams, a professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College, who published an op-ed in the New York Times pointing out that American college administrators were far more liberal than the markedly liberal college professors in our country, who are already mostly liberal. According to Abraams, this caused a skewing of the ideologies seen by students. (I agree with that take, but am not so sure that we can keep academics from embracing the Left, nor should we.). But despite my mild disagreement with Abram’s thesis, what happened to him when the students got hold of his article shouldn’t happened to anyone.
Campbell goes on to describe the nature of victimhood culture, to disagree with Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff on its causes, and then to prognosticate about its fate (short take: we won’t be able to get rid of it easily).
It was only after I read that article that I realized that the hijab is a way to assume pigmentation, for once you put it on, you’re seen as a Muslim and therefore an oppressed victim. You become special, as did Sarsour. (Remember that the admiring profile of Sarsour in the New York Times was titled “Brooklyn homegirl in a hijab.“)
The hijab apparently gives you bonus points in fighting the oppressed, as Sarsour pretends to do, but the real import of the headscarf, for many who don it, is to give them visible credibility as victims. The sad thing is that it’s a double victimhood, for the hijab exists to hide the sexually alluring hair of Muslim women, helping them fend off the uncontrollable passions of men who would become raping animals at the sight of a wisp of hair. In other words, the hijab may be equivalent to the victimhood of pigmentation, but it’s is also a sign of the victimhood of Muslim women by Islam itself.