What is a “Student of color?”

I don’t get to listen to the radio as often as I’d like. Mostly, I listen when I’m driving. I know, I know, I could listen at home, but the problem is that I prefer to select my own music and always have, even as my tastes have changed. So, the radio I listen to is often talk radio and I can’t listen to that at home because when I’m home, I’m generally either reading or writing…and I can’t focus on doing either of those when I’m trying to listen to talk radio.

But, listening to the radio the other day, I caught a snippet of some news report about “students of color.” I have no clue what the report was about (okay, the truth is that I actually can’t remember what it was about), but that phrase—which I’ve heard before—somehow stood out to me at that particular moment…and got me ta’thinkin’. I don’t know that I’ve heard “student” of color before so much as I’ve heard “person” of color.

The more I thought about that phrase, the more it bothered me. As with almost anything in our beautiful language, to say one thing implies other things. So, “student of color” is meant to suggest any student who is not white. Which, is every single other student except white students. Sounds incredibly exclusive and racist to me.

But to say there are students of color is to suggest that white students have no color. While I’m not Dracula, nor am I emo so that my skin is pasty-white, I’m about as white as they get—my skin just doesn’t tan in the sun that well, not like BJ’s, whose skin darkens with five minutes of sunlight. But I go through all that to say that my skin—which everyone would tell you is “white”—has color. It’s a peachy-pinky kinda color. No, I don’t know exactly what it is, my good friend and supreme colorist Emily Kanalz could probably tell you the exact color and give you the number off of some color chart.

Another way to take this slightly insulting phrase is to think that it means white people have no interesting personalities. The radio announcer almost certainly meant Caucasians, but we often say that people with very interesting personalities are “colorful” people. Therefore, in a roundabout way, the announcer is suggesting that white people have no interesting personalities.

Finally, white is indeed a color on the color wheel and is used as a color. Buy any box of crayons and you’ll find “white” right along with the rest of the colorful box of crayons, including red, yellow and black. Why is it then, that when the term “white” is used to refer to race, it is meant as “no color?

I mean, I often think of myself as a colorful kinda guy … I think I should be offended?

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1 Comment

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One response to “What is a “Student of color?”

  1. Yes, my friend—and the reason I think you’re NOT offended is because even our colorful (!) language is inadequate to balance centuries of injustices perpetrated on non-Caucasian races by Caucasians.

    As a context-free discussion, I’m 100% with you. (In such a rarified atmosphere, there are many inconsistencies. To wit: what could be wrong with being called a colored person? What, ya wanna be colorless? All those white folks contributing to the tanning industry sure don’t!)

    But we’re NOT in a rarified atmosphere. Here in the real world, the value of compassion often exceeds the value of semantics.

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