What Exactly Does the Phrase “People of Color” Mean?

Sylvanus A AYENI, M.D.
7 min readJun 16, 2022

Sub-Title: The Seemingly Immutable Human Color Caste

Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

Leaders including Presidents, Vice Presidents, State Governors, members of Congress, judges in courts, professors in various disciplines, pastors, media moguls, CEOs of small and multibillion dollar corporations, sports and entertainment celebrities and ‘regular’ people use this phrase — “People of color”.

But do People of color really exist? If they do, are the others “People of no color” — Colorless People?

We live in a strongly partitioned world. Partitioned along multiple lines — class line, cultural line, gender line, ideology line, language line, religious line, and yes, very deeply along skin color (race)line.

Perhaps the most scientifically baseless and most toxic line is the skin color line.

A line which divides human beings individually and into groups along false stereotypes and superficial characteristics with profound negative and sometimes lethal consequences.

A line which packs billions of very complex systems — human bodies — into a superficial socially convenient box: “People of color”.

Best selling author Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents put it this way:

“The use of inherited physical characteristics to differentiate inner abilities and group value may be the cleverest way that a culture has ever devised to manage and maintain a caste system”.

She continues: “As a social and human division”, wrote the political scientist Andrew Hacker of the use of physical traits to form human categories, “it surpasses all others — even gender — in intensity and subordination”.

Indeed, it is this subordination, intended or unintended that renders the Human color caste seemingly immutable.

The Journey From “Coloured Countenances” to “People of Color”

When, where and how did this phrase “People of Color” get started?

Wouldn’t pretend to have the precise answers.

William Safire, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times also wrote “On Language,” a New…

Sylvanus A AYENI, M.D.

Neurosurgeon. Founder, Pan Africa Children Advocacy Watch(PACAW Inc) www.pacaw.org. Author: RESCUE THYSELF: Change In Sub-Saharan Africa Must Come From Within