The Re-Emergence of People of Color

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The social category people of color has been born twice from the mixing of peoples in the United States. This article seeks to explain the category's emergence and varied boundaries in the late 1700s and early 1800s, its decline in the mid-1800s, and its re-emergence and spread in a related meaning of enlarged scope since the 1970s. In both phases, people of color has served as a bridging identity across racial lines for those not included among whites; both times it has served primarily as a term of respect, not abuse. The category's revival has rested on a contested people-of-color equation - the equating of other minorities with Black people - and has come in four stages: 1) the advent of a new configuration of governmentally recognized minorities in the 1960s and 1970s; 2) the adoption of people of color as a collective identity for those groups, initially among Black, progressive, and feminist activists; 3) the polarized diffusion of people of color in the media; and 4) the emergence among activists of second thoughts about the category people of color as insufficiently specific. The article concludes with a brief discussion of whether the traditional color line is being redrawn as a people-of-color line.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalDu Bois Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 13 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Inter-ethnic Coalitions
  • Mixed-race
  • Multiracial
  • Panethnicity
  • People of Color
  • Racial Classification
  • Women of Color


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