Can We Please Have Some Compassion For People of Height?

March 2003By Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

I have a brochure about the national conference of People of Color at Predominantly White Institutions that took place at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last November. The conference brochure suggested an assortment of topics as relevant to People of Color in predominantly white institutions:

- Feelings and experiences of alienation at PWIs [Predominantly White Institutions]

- Mentoring students and faculty of color

- Race, gender, and authority in the classroom

- The future of ethnic studies programs

- People of Color and the law in higher education

From the title of the conference, I assumed the intent of such a conference was to attract People of Color who work at or attend institutions that are predominantly white. The people sponsoring such a conference must think there are two categories of people: People of Color and White People. However, since white is not a color, a white institution ought to be referred to as a "colorless" institution and, for the sake of precision, the conference ought to have been entitled People of Color at Predominantly Colorless Institutions.

What exactly qualifies a person for inclusion in the category of human entitled People of Color? Freckles must count for something, as People of Freckle have orange or brownish spots on their bodies that are often darker than any Latino's or Latina's skin. Does a person with a ruddy complexion, a Person of Rud, qualify as a Person of Color since a rosy red face is more colorful than a variety of shades of brown or tan or yellow or freckle?

Is there any difference between People of Color and "colored people"? A person who claims to be a Person of Color is like a person who claims to be a Person of Height. Undoubtedly, a Person of Height, when asked about his or her height, is specific, responding 6?9?, 6?11?, or -- tired of being asked "Howz the weather up there?" -- responds 5?19?, to force the inquirer into a simple math problem. So People of Color must be prepared, when asked what color they are, to state precisely their color, just as People of Height are expected to state their precise height.

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