RACIAL IDENTITY

Is ‘Colored’ an Important Distinction or Just Another Word for ‘Black’?

Like a fish out of water, language loses all its air, its meaning outside of its context

Allison Wiltz
7 min readNov 21, 2023

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Photo of a young man and woman standing with lamp in foreground | Photo by Denner Trindade via Pexels

What makes someone “Black” or “colored” cannot be measured definitively on a color-coded scale because race is a social construct, not a genetic one. It was the 18th-century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus who constructed and promoted the idea of race, portraying White people as superior. These categories included more than physical differences but also social and intellectual ones. For instance, Linnaeus described Black, or Africanus people, as “sly, sluggish,” and “neglectful,” Asiatic, or Asiaticus people as “stern, haughty,” and “greedy.” In comparison, Europaeus people were described as “light, wise, inventor,” while Americanus was considered “unyielding, cheerful,” and “free.” As a result, the concept of race is inseparable from white supremacy, the belief that White people are not just different but superior to other racial groups and, therefore, entitled to more access to resources and opportunities.

Now, back to this terminology of calling someone “colored” or “Black.” Some people may be surprised to learn that in any racial hierarchical system, it is not only someone’s race that is relevant but also their skin tone, complexion, phenotype, and hair texture that impacts their social standing. Put another way, when any nation upholds whiteness as a gold standard, then proximity to whiteness becomes a treasured gem. This is why some people rather identify as anything other than Black. For instance, Tyla, a South African singer who received international praise for her breakout single, “Water,” has raised eyebrows by racially identifying as “coloured” as opposed to “Black.”

When asked why, she explained that in South Africa, “coloured,” means that someone is racially mixed or ambiguous and represents a different racial identity than “Black.” While Indigenous South Africans are considered “Black,” those who stray too far from that category without appearing “White” are placed in a third category, “coloured.” Of course, many Black Americans chimed in to say they will not be referring to anyone as “coloured,” because the term doesn’t have the same…

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Allison Wiltz

Womanist Scholar bylines @ Momentum, Oprah Daily, ZORA, GEN, EIC of Cultured #WEOC Founder allisonthedailywriter.com https://ko-fi.com/allyfromnola