Someone recently came into my office and asked, “Where can I find Tolani?”
The receptionist replied, “Oh, Tolani is the lady in the white top.” Two other women in the office were wearing white tops.
She tried again, “The woman with brown hair.”
Three other women in the office had brown hair. She was running out of ways to describe me, so I helped her out: waving my hands I cheerfully replied, “It’s me, the black woman over here.”
I was the only black woman – the only black person – in this office. There was an immediate reaction to me saying the word “black”. The office instantly felt awkward, uncomfortable even. As if I had said a racist slur. And I get it: racial terminology can be daunting for white people.
But just so we’re clear, I am a black woman and I would like to be referred to as one.
The awkwardness felt in my office seems to be shared by many white people. It explains why black people are commonly referred to as “people of colour”. And although the term feels inclusive and politically correct, and is better than the previously used term “coloured”, I am still not here for it.
The term “people of colour” is an American import and is used to describe everybody that is not white. I first came across the buzzwords on social media: POC (people of colour) and WOC (woman of colour). Initially I had no problem with them. The terms were convenient. They provided me and my diverse group of friends with a title.
But at the same time, social media was making these terms into lazy ways of addressing people.
Yes, all ethnic groups face discrimination and have to deal with racial stereotypes, but it is not the same as being black, or a black woman. My struggles are not theirs and nor are my achievements. We have different battles. This was made apparent to me after the Nike “Nothing Beats a Londoner” advert, which came out earlier this year. The advert aimed to celebrate London’s diversity and it featured an array of stars including Skepta, Giggs and Michael Dapaah. As a black woman, I loved the advert, but it faced backlash from Asian viewers, who felt underrepresented. It shows we are not one homogenous group.
More recently, social media made me realise I was not alone in feeling uneasy about the term “people of colour” or “women of colour”. Over the weekend Beyoncé performed at Coachella. And when I say performed, I mean she flawlessly displayed her excellence for two hours straight. The performance, at its very core, was black: it was an unapologetic celebration of blackness. She celebrated black institutions, she performed the black gospel song “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. She even thanked Coachella for allowing her to be the first black woman to headline the festival. Yet when the performance was spoken about, Beyonce was described as a “woman of colour”.
White people might feel uncomfortable with certain racial descriptors, but their discomfort is not my or Beyoncé’s problem. To be described as “people of colour” feels like our blackness is being tamed. Like it’s being hushed to make our identity more palatable.
And in a world where we need to shout “Black Lives Matter”, my blackness is so dear to me. It’s being a part of a beautiful, powerful organisation and, despite every adversity it faces, it continues to be unapologetic and bold. It’s my strength, my badge of honour and the reason why I am so cute.
My blackness means too much to me to hide it under the guise of “people of colour”.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies