Thanks for your question. I received a similar question from someone who IDs as Armenian in 2013. You can read that thread here (I hope it helps!).
For the record, I’m not Armenian. I identify as Chicana. I know people who are Armenian who identify as POC and those who ID as white. I even know some Armenians who consider themselves “ethnic white" and actively involve themselves in POC orgs/events. I know that there are many factors involved in their decisions, including geography, where they were raised, their own coloring/features, their relationship to their neighborhoods/communities/local POC, etc.
How do you define POC? As the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper noted in November 1912:
"The statutes of Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas assert that ‘a person of color’ is one who is descended from a Negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one ancestor in each generation may have been white. According to the law of Alabama one is ‘a person of color’ who has had any Negro blood in his ancestry for five generations. … In Arkansas ‘persons of color’ include all who have a visible and distinct admixture of African blood. … Thus it would seem that a Negro in one state is not always a Negro in another."
However, today many people who don’t identify as black or mixed still identify as a person of color.
In a 1988 New York Times column about the phrase, William Safire pointed out that Martin Luther King Jr. referred to “citizens of color” in his speech at the 1963 March on Washington and wrote:
"People of color, on the other hand, is a phrase encompassing all nonwhites. … When used by whites, people of color usually carries a friendly and respectful connotation, but should not be used as a synonym for black; it refers to all racial groups that are not white."
Professor Salvador Vidal-Ortiz had this to say in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society:
"People of color explicitly suggests a social relationship among racial and ethnic minority groups. … [It is] is a term most often used outside of traditional academic circles, often infused by activist frameworks, but it is slowly replacing terms such as racial and ethnic minorities. … In the United States in particular, there is a trajectory to the term — from more derogatory terms such as negroes, to colored, to people of color. … People of color is, however it is viewed, a political term, but it is also a term that allows for a more complex set of identity for the individual — a relational one that is in constant flux."
I am Latina and I identify as POC. I also benefit from white privilege without seeking it out, because I have light skin.
Do many Armenians benefit from white privilege? Yes. What we do know is that in 1925, in United States v. Cartozian, the court decided that, for naturalization purposes, Armenians are white and are therefore eligible for citizenship. According to the court in Cartozian, Armenians are white because they are “predominately Christian, readily intermarry with whites and the common understanding is that they are white.”
But those are gross generalizations and that case doesn’t represent all Armenian people. I wouldn’t use the case to claim that all Armenians are white or that someone who is Armenian can’t ID as POC. Again - racial identity is complex. Armenians experience discrimination too. For example, in Glendale, California, where there is a sizable Armenian-American community, Armenians have been targeted by white supremacists.
In “AM I WHITE?: THE STORY OF AN ARMENIAN AMERICAN” by Nazareth Markarian, the author posits that Armenians were classified as white because “we pose no threat to the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture.”
I don’t know what it’s like to be Armenian and I’m not an “expert” on ethnic studies. I am not informed enough about your life and other factors to advise you on how to identify, but I can share some contextual information about the previous inquiry that I hope helps you …
If you check the thread I linked to, you will see that the Armenian individual who reached out to POCZP said that “as an Armenian I am stuck in-between being ‘white’ and brown and therefore don’t know if I will be accepted in the POC community.”
I’m happy to share that at L.A. Zine Fest 2013, the person who sent the question was in attendance and we spoke at length. This person appreciated my response and was feeling better about their identity and ways to connect with other POC communities. I am not taking credit for how they felt then or today, but what I am saying is that it was valuable for this person to reach out and to think about what identifying as a person of color means for them. The last time we spoke, they identify as POC, West Asian and Armenian. Identities are complex.
What was interesting about our exchange (on top of sharing a great hug!) is that we have similar coloring: light olive/fair-skin and dark hair/eyes. Some people might have even mistaken us for relatives, even though I am Latina.
What I have in common with some Armenian folks is that sometimes people don’t identify me or see me as a person of color. It’s understandable - they don’t know my story. They don’t know my family history. They see what they see (fair skin) and they make a set of assumptions. They don’t know that I have Mexican, Black, White, Japanese, Jewish, etc. blood relatives. They don’t know I was raised bilingual. They don’t know that my native ancestors are buried at the Mission of Capistrano. They don’t know me.
So, who are you? Are you a person of color? I don’t know. But I am glad you recognize that your light skin does affect how people treat you and how you can move in the world. What you and I have in common is that there are times when people don’t know “what” we “are” but yet we still benefit from problematic power structures because of our fair skin.
My experience of being a person of color who is Chicana is very different from my partner’s, who is a black woman. We don’t share the same experience and she has to deal with way more bullshit than I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a person of color.
The reason why - in part - POC is a complex term is that there are many “people of color” who don’t identify with it - some choose to identify specifically with their country of origin. Some black folks don’t identify as POC at all, while others do. Often this has to do with resistance to a monolithic, ethnic identity that assumes a shared experience. Racial identity is complex.
People confuse nationality with race and how culture translates throughout the multitudes of diasporas. I’ve met people browner than me in New Orleans who identify as white. I’ve met mixed folks who bristle at being identified as white. If you were to tell my fair-skinned, blonde niece in L.A. that she is white, she would be offended. Identity is complex.
I can’t tell you how to identify. But I do think a great place to start in your journey of figuring out if you will ID as POC is to recognize that having light skin makes your journey as a POC very different from that of someone who is always read as POC because of how they look.
While you figure out if identifying as POC makes sense for you, one of the most healing things you can do is to act in solidarity with POC in your community. Affect change where you live: volunteer with a local POC-led org, share information about POC-led initiatives IRL and online, etc.
You will find community and acceptance with POC if you demonstrate love, care, empathy and the ability to actively listen.
And remember: whether someone identifies as POC or not, if they aren’t there for you when you need them and don’t reciprocate love/care/support, then they are not worth your time and you should seek out more accountable people.
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