There is a difference between being black and being a person of color

There is a difference between being black and being a person of color

This Saturday, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter made history as the first black woman to headline Coachella and broke a few other records along the way, such as most-watched livestream and longest dance sequence.

Her performance was heavily influenced by black Southern culture, specifically the culture of historically black colleges and universities. Beyoncé, her dancers and a 200-person band formed a drum line and performed on a set designed to resemble the bleachers at an HBCU homecoming rally. With that Spelman-esque setting, a tribute to Nina Simone and quotes from Malcolm X peppered in, Queen Bey’s performance was unequivocally black. Why, then, are so many referring to her show as a tribute for people of color, rather than acknowledging that it was meant specifically for black people?

While Beyonce’s performance could certainly serve as inspiration for all women of color, being that she was the first non-white woman to headline, her strides for black women shouldn’t be absorbed into a monolithic victory bank for all women who happen to be not white. To simply call such a performance a win for people of color requires an impressive determination to ignore its unambiguous blackness and hyper-simplistically divide the world between white people and everyone else. All people of color have unique quirks that define their specific cultures and cannot reasonably be lumped together.

Similar problems arise when black struggles are referred to as struggles for all people of color. This is not the oppression olympics, and I don’t intend to claim that black suffering is worse than that of any other marginalized group in America. However, as a black woman, I can only speak to that which I have experienced. The oppression of black people in this country is centuries old and has gone through countless iterations, showing itself in different ways with every passing generation — lessening, yes, but still present. When non-black people of color claim our suffering, they align themselves with a struggle that, quite frankly, just isn’t theirs to claim. They also do themselves a disservice by not focusing on the specific historical context that has contributed to their own culture's subjugation.

When white people refer to specifically black issues as issues for people of color, the result is even more sinister. Rather than treat other cultures with the individual respect they deserve, people lump all non-white groups into an “other” category and call it a day. By doing so, they maintain the idea that white is the default, the center of society and everything else is just one big brown melting pot of interchangeable history and culture.

Eliminating — or, more realistically, drastically reducing — racism is a daunting task that will not be accomplished overnight. Though many believe that prejudice will vanish if people simply stop acknowledging race in general, this mindset is lazy and childish. A broken leg won’t mend correctly without proper medical attention; likewise, the systemic racism that has plagued our nation since before its inception cannot be eradicated until people begin thinking critically about the preconceived notions they hold about certain peoples and the events that led to these stereotypes.

“Black” is not a dirty word. Referring to an overtly black work of art like Beyoncé’s performance as such isn’t rude or insensitive; it’s accurate. In order to bridge the gap between the many beautiful cultures that have found a home in this country, we must first be comfortable acknowledging that there is a gap and that our differences are the very things we should celebrate.

Lota Erinne is a sophomore majoring in finance and English. Her column runs biweekly. 

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