We are all members of the same race: the human race. Biological differences in races do not exist. (I strongly recommend the PBS three-part series, “Race: The Power of an Illusion” for further explanation.)
People of color mostly dislike the phrase non-Whites. It speaks to what we are not as opposed to naming what we are. It is a bit like calling women non-men, or children, non-adults.
Let people of color self-identify. We are not all dark or even mid-range in complexion—some of us appear White.
Colored people is an antiquated term. Oriental refers to furniture, rugs, and the like. Asians is the general or umbrella term for people of Asian descent. Pacific Islanders is another umbrella term. Whenever possible, be specific when referencing any population of people of color.
The legal identification for American Indians is specific as it appears on tribal ID cards. Native American is often favored as an umbrella term but, here again, allow people to self-identify.
And be as specific as possible when referencing any population. For example, African American or Latino. But for the general identification of multiple groups people of color is appropriate.
White people refers to those of European descent. We also use the term people of Northern European descent.
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Whiteness was created shortly after the Bacon Rebellion. It provided racial tiers that previously did not exist. Whiteness was first codified in 1681 within the first two colonies (Virginia and Maryland), according to Jacqueline Battalora in her book, “Birth of a White Nation.”
Thereafter, Whiteness continued to be codified in following colonies, in this nation’s founding documents and in state and federal laws.
Because U.S. law could make a White person from whomever it chose, Mexicans were and have been considered White by law. However, the same laws that refused to allow an African American to testify against a White were applied to Mexicans and Asians.
Anyone attempting to do racial justice work or any person desiring a future in which race does not matter must understand how people were divided into races, to what end this division took place, and how that division has impacted the lives of all of us.
Because Women of the ELCA has been working to end racial divides for 20 years, we can help you have helpful conversations about race. Please look at our new racial justice advocacy resources at womenoftheelca.org/racialjustice.
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice for Women of the ELCA.