Monday, March 7, 2011

The Origin of the Term Woman of Colour

Loretta Ross gives a much needed history lesson that was captured on video at, Western States Center's Groundwork reproductive justice and training and convening Jan 28, 2011.

Y'all know where the term women of colour came from? Who can say that?  See we're bad at transmitting history.  In 1977, a group of Black women from Washington D.C. went to the National Women's Conference that Jimmy Carter had given five million dollars to have as part of the world decade for women.  There was a conference in Houston, Texas.  This group of Black women carried to this conference something called a Black woman's agenda, because the organizers of this conference, Betta Abdul, Elie Smieler and what have you, had put together a three page minority women's plank, in a two hundred page document, that these Black women found somewhat inadequate, and so they actually formed a group called Black Woman's Agenda, to come there in Houston with a Black woman's plan that they wanted the delegates to vote to substitute for the minority plank that was in the proposed plan of action. 

Well, a funny thing happened in Houston when they took the Black women's agenda to Houston, then all of the rest of the minority women of colour wanted to be in included in the Black women's agenda.  Well, they agreed except that you could no longer call it the Black woman's agenda and it was in those negotiations in Houston that the term woman of colour was created okay and they didn't see it as a biological designation, you're born Asian, you're born Black, you're born African-American whatever.  It is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of colour, who have been minoritized. 

Now what's happened in the thirty years since then, is that people see it as biology now and people are saying I don't want to be defined as woman of colour, I am Black, I am Asian-American.  Well, that's fine, but why are you reducing a political designation to a biological destiny? That's what White supremacy wants you to do and I think it's a setback when we disintegrate as people of colour around primitive ethnic claiming.  Yes, we are Asian-American, Native American whatever but the point is when you choose to work with other people, who are minoritized by oppression, you have lifted yourself up out of that basic identity, into another political being, another political space and unfortunately so many times people of colour hear the term people of colour from so many White people, that they think White people created it, instead of understanding that we self named ourselves. This is a term that has a lot of power for us, but we've done a poor ass job of communicating this history so that people understand that power.

So, instead of saying what I think, I am really interested to know where you stand on this video.  Did you learn something from this, and have your feelings on the term WOC changed now?  Do you feel that the term WOC is empowering or has it become something that has become so normalized that it has lost its political effectiveness?