Holy Quran; Verse 13, chapter 49
Translation (Yusuf Ali):
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
In the recent days and weeks I have had various conversations on Twitter regarding race, specifically what terms should be used to describe people. “Person of colour (PoC)” is an American term which is now being used increasingly here too. According to this “classification” the population of the world is divided into “PoC” and “Whites”. I have great trouble with this division of people and I explain why below.
Why did I start my blogpost with a quotation from Quran? Because Islam is a big part of my life and defines me. As does being a British, Pakistani, woman. I am a Muslim, a woman, British and an Asian of Pakistani extraction. I am not one indistinguishable dot in a sea of colour. I celebrate and acknowledge all these facets of my personality and I want others to acknowledge them too.
Secondly, I do not like dividing the world into two on basis of skin colour; if I say I am a “Woman of Colour” (WoC) then I:
- Make my skin colour the only thing which makes me the person I am
- Say I am different from everyone who happens to be white
- Say my religion and ethnicity are not important at all
- Think of the world as “us” and “them”
- Expect a bi-racial person to decide that he/she is either a “PoC” or “White”
- Don’t acknowledge that there are problems in this world which transcend the colour divide.
As the above quotation says, the peoples (the plural is important here) of the world belong to different nations and tribes. They should all be acknowledged. I want my ethnicity acknowledged. I want to acknowledge ethnicity of everyone else. I want my religion acknowledged. I want to acknowledge that others have same, different or no religious beliefs. I want my rich Punjabi, Pakistani heritage acknowledged. I want to acknowledge the heritage of others. How can we celebrate the richness of peoples, nations and ethnic groups if we say the whole world is made up of “PoC” and “Whites”?
My next problem with the term “PoC” is that, to me, it is very close to “coloured”. I associate it with America and Jim Crow. I don’t like this association and will, therefore, not use this term or have it used for me.
The other thing which will happen as a result of this binary characterisation of mankind is that we will be unable to help people within the “PoC” community as well as the “White” community. If all of us are just “PoC” then how will we check if, for example, Pakistani children are making the same progress as the Indian children or that the Bengali and Somalian children are making the same progress as the others? A report published by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission shows
- Chinese and Indian pupils continue to perform better than all other ethnicities at school
- Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have seen the biggest improvements in education and employment
- Black workers, who were previously one of the better paid ethnic groups, suffered one of the largest falls in wages.
The reasons for the above differences between DIFFERENT ETHNIC RACES need to be studied in order to work out why, for example, students of other ethnicities don’t perform as well as Chinese and Indian, what are the reasons behind the improvement in performance of the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and why Black workers have suffered the largest fall in wages. The reasons for these differences are probably very complex and will have to be studied in terms of the different pressures experienced by different ethnicities.
We also face the danger of losing sight of the fact that the group making the least progress are actually white, working class children. By focusing only on the problems faced by “PoC” we are in danger of leaving these white children behind. Do we, as educators, really want this?
People who object to the term “PoC” are told they don’t know or understand structural racism.
We do, believe me, we do!
We are asked if by rejecting the term, we are rejecting the idea that structural racism exists.
Of course we don’t.
People objecting to being labelled as “PoC” are told they are aligning themselves with white supremacists!
Or that we are unable to let go of the colonial past.
Or we are effectively still living “on the plantation”.
People don’t seem to realise that as soon as they say any of the above, they have effectively lost the argument.
If people want to describe themselves as “PoC” then that is their choice and right to do so but they need to understand where we are coming from when we object to this term being used to describe us. There are a sizable number of us in UK who prefer not to be described as “PoC”. We don’t want to feel pigeon holed and we don’t want to ignore the richness of our heritage.
It’s the fact that I can start the post with a Quranic quotation, wear shalwar kameez to work, eat sushi, drink tea, enjoy humus and fish and chips and send my children to school and university that puts the Great into Britain. Yes, there are problems and prejudices to overcome and glass ceilings to be broken. Let’s recognise each other as humans first and then accept that they all belong to different tribes and nations, each as rich as the other and then let’s work to make sure that they are all treated equally and their heritage is celebrated rather than hidden away by putting them in one of two groups.
We are nations and tribes not so that we can despise each other but so we can appreciate each other.