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Person of color (plural: people of color, persons of color) is a term used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. The term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism. People of color was introduced as a preferable replacement to both non-white and minority, which are also inclusive, because it frames the subject positively; non-white defines people in terms of what they are not (white), and minority frequently carries a subordinate connotation. Style guides for writing from American Heritage, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Mount Holyoke College, recommend the term over these alternatives. It may also be used with other collective categories of people such as students of color, men of color and women of color. Person of color typically refers to individuals of non-European heritage.
The untranslated English term has also seen some limited usage among Germans of color, especially when stressing the postcolonial perspective, but so far has not found entrance into general German language and is not necessarily known by the general populace.
Although the term citizens of color was used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, and other uses date to as early as 1793, people of color did not gain prominence for many years. Influenced by radical theorists like Frantz Fanon, racial justice activists in the U.S. began to use the term people of color in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was in wide circulation. Both anti-racist activists and academics sought to move understandings of race beyond the black-white binary then prevalent.
According to Stephen Saris, in the United States there are two big racial divides. "First, there is the black–white kind, which is basically anti-black". The second racial divide is the one "between whites and everyone else" with whites being "narrowly construed" and everyone else being called "people of color". Because the term people of color includes vastly different people with only the common distinction of not being white, it draws attention to the fundamental role of racialization in the United States. It acts as "a recognition that certain people are racialized" and serves to emphasize "the importance of coalition" by "making connections between the ways different 'people of color' are racialized." As Joseph Truman explains, the term people of color is attractive because it unites disparate racial and ethnic groups into a larger collective in solidarity with one another.
Furthermore, the term persons of color has been embraced and used to replace the term minority because the term minority could, but not necessarily according to proper context, imply inferiority and disfranchisement. In addition, people of color constitute the majority population in certain U.S. cities, in most countries, and in the world as a whole.