The End of Non-Whites
American English is littered with obvious and insidious expressions of privilege and supremacy. Researchers use these words. Activists use these words. Journalists use these words. Good and bad people use these words. I have used these words. We have consciously and unconsciously perpetuated language that oppresses and marginalizes human beings based on their identities and the groups to which they belong while re-enforcing myths of supremacy and granting privilege to others.
As I have listened to debates rage over Donald Trump’s racist statements, including calling Africa and Haiti “shithole countries,” I notice pundits, academics, and the “woke” continue to call people non-white. I’m calling it out. I’m not accepting it. No one should feel comfortable using the term and I plan to point it out until it becomes one of those archaic expressions — lost in the dictionary.
Non-white refers to people who are not predominantly of European ancestry although some would say it refers to anyone who has ancestry that is not European. Others believe it refers to someone who is not of the white race — although race is contrived and non-scientific.
The moment you say non-white, you have made white people the norm and everyone else a deviation, mutation, or variation of white people and the characteristics associated with whiteness. For those who want to get technical, white people and whiteness were not the original norm in America. In fact, the original people on this land were and are Native Americans (who outnumbered European immigrants upon their arrival) so if we ever needed to establish a norm, there you have it. The norm should have been based on the fact that Native Americans predated the arrival of European immigrants. In that case, might it have been more accurate to call all of us non-Native American or non-indigenous? Even that would be wrong.
Every time I hear a someone verbally group people by calling them non-white, I bristle because they should know better. What message are we sending (in a country that was never wholly white and is increasingly black and brown) when we continue to perpetuate whiteness as the norm when we speak about one another and ourselves?
If you want to understand how toxic, racist, and insidious “non-white” is, go to Twitter and search #nonwhite. Look at the timeline. You will see that it is the chosen phrase of neo-Nazis, racist hate groups, racial purists, and your every day, run of the mill racists who now believe that white Americans are oppressed.
I don’t presume to have a perfect replacement phrase or name. Some people may or may not think “people of color” or “POC” applies to them and I can respect that but for people with microphones, stages, audiences, viewers, listeners, and readers — non-white is over. If you don’t like “people of color” or “POC” then it is time to coin a new phrase — a respectful one that doesn’t label millions of people as deviants or deviations from whiteness. Don’t refer to people as what they are not. Refer to people as what they are.
For the record, I like to think of myself as a person of color and melanin-blessed because my social identity in America; yesterday, today, and tomorrow, has nothing to do with my proximity to whiteness or my European ancestry.
For more on language we need to leave in 2017, check out How to Fix a Broken Tongue.