I Have Mixed Feelings About the Term ‘Women of Color’
Labels have their pros and cons. At their best, they contribute to identity-building and help us articulate how we choose to exist in society. At their worst, they create moving targets out of ordinary people, define without consent, and slowly line up around their subject, like walls that eventually turn into isolating boxes.
In the United States, labels are boxes in the most literal sense of the word. In the land of the free, you’re expected to check your box, own your label, and stay put in the identity you appear to have chosen for yourself. As if human beings weren’t organic and ever-changing.
When I came back to the U.S. after years of living in my home country, Colombia, I knew that I would have to choose a set of labels to define myself, that I’d be categorized into the stack of immigrants, Latinas, and Hispanics. I felt proud of my identity, but there was one tag I was assigned that caught me completely off guard: woman of color.
Feminist scholar Loretta Ross is one of the few people who has given context to this label-turned-buzzword. She’s advocated fiercely for its use, highlighting it as a concept embraced by minority women rather than imposed on us.
In an interview for the documentary Makers, Ross traces the term back to 1977, when a group of Black women from Washington, D.C., were attending the National Women’s Conference in Texas. These women had brought a Black women’s agenda to the meeting, intending to replace the “three-page minority women’s plank” organizers had put together. According to Ross, once in Houston, “all other minority women of color wanted to be included in the Black women’s agenda.” The term was the product of these internal dialogues. In another interview available on YouTube, Ross sustains that women who embraced the label “didn’t see it as a biological destination” but rather “a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color.”
In this historical meaning, the label feels inspiring — uplifting, even. It makes me feel like I’m part of something unique. It provides a rush of understanding like I’m one of many fierce women willing to stand up for each other’s…