Revisiting “Non-White”

I heard it again. I heard the term “Non-White” on an NPR podcast. (Shame on you, NPR for not getting “it”.)

I cringed. Yes, once again, I cringed so bad I couldn’t contain myself. I recently asked a girlfriend of mine on how she felt about being called “Non-White”. She says she gets furious whenever she hears “Non-White”. That she knew her grandparents would be rolling in their graves if they heard the term “Non-White”. Her grandparents made the hard choice of paying the poll tax for “colored” people instead of paying their bills just so they could vote for John F. Kennedy. Can you imagine? To decide between your utilities and voting? That is what it means to be a person of color. And calling it the struggle of someone who is “Non-White” is deeply dismissive.

To label me as “Non-White” would be equivalent of ripping away my identity. You might as well say that my race means nothing. But it does mean something. To me, being Filipino American means being first generation immigrant. It means being a Catholic with strong social justice values. It means being raised by strong family members. Filipino American means so much more to me than “Non-White”.

This gets me back to the question: Why are we classified as “Non-White”? Why are Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders clumped together and called “Non-White” voters?

I want to say that the reason lies with Sociology 101. Sociology teaches you that even though there are several cultures, there is always a mainstream culture. Perhaps the reason why we’re labeled “Non-White” is because we are not the mainstream culture.

Mainstream culture has the ability, power, and status to classify us (Blacks, Latinos, and AAPI) as the sub-culture. Even if we, as the sub-culture, technically comprise more of the total population of the United States, we will continue to be labeled the sub-culture. It is, in a way, holding command and control of this sub-culture. (That last point will be debated on by many. I’m sure.)

You’re probably asking yourself, well if this were the case, then how hasn’t anyone fixed this yet? Why haven’t we stopped using the term “Non-White”? Simply put, mainstream culture is good at what it does. Labeling people of color the “minority” then countlessly using “minority” over and over. Then swapping out “minority” for “Non-white” over and over. There are plenty of reports, research papers, and analyses that are being shuffled around with those two terms. And there are plenty of podcasts, radio talk stations, and news stations that use those terms. After a while, people start thinking that it’s okay to label over half of the US population as “Non-White”.

I’m going to leave you with this thought, mainly because I’ve probably ruffled a few feathers already. But if someone were to describe you as a voter as “Non-White” and you’re okay with it, re-evaluate that. Especially if you think using “Non-White” in any of these other instances is wrong.

  • Your friend, Elsie, is she Non-White?
  • Who did you vote for? The Non-White guy.
  • Please mark your race/ethnicity: Caucasian or Non-White
  • Oh, you’re dating a Non-White girl. How is that going for you?

‘Til the next time.
– E