Armenian Anon— I am also a first gen queer Armenian-American and I 100% feel everything you wrote about! I am so shocked to hear somebody else articulating what you’ve wrote; it’s like a revelation! Get in contact with me on my blog! I’m mad interested in the zine you’re working on too. (Dear POC Zine Project: sorry for using you as a go-between)
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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Thank you for writing. My name is Daniela Capistrano and I’m the founder of the POC Zine Project. I am addressing you personally because I want to thank you for sharing your story and for taking on the zine project you described. We would love to help you in any way that we can.
Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss ways to support your project.
You have raised a point that others have brought to our attention online and at our tour events, which is that POC identity and related communities can be defined in very different ways, depending on factors like:
- shared histories/lack of shared histories
- level of education/level of access to education
You have not stated where you are located. I would like to know more about your efforts to engage with POC-led movements and formal/informal groups and how people responded to you.
As someone who identifies as POC but also has skin privilege (people often confuse me for Italian or Jewish), I can (in my own way) relate to this comment you made:
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 can relate to this statement because there was a time in my teens where I wasn’t sure where I fit in. The POC folk I interacted with at the time had different interests from me. I felt stifled and frustrated. However, I’m thankful I was able to determine that one group of POC doesn’t speak for all people of color.
There isn’t one monolithic POC community that you need to worry about being accepted by. You don’t need to pick one group to affiliate yourself with. You can, and should, support and draw strength from as many POC as you can.
As POC, many of us often (unintentionally even) project our own internalized racism and identity issues onto other POC. I don’t know you, so I don’t know if that has anything to do with your situation. But I do know that internalized racism did play a huge role in how long it took for me to create my own POC community that was affirming and inspiring.
If you don’t feel like you have a POC community you can relate to, create one.
Your self-care should be paramount. If you’re feeling isolated, you took a great step by contacting us to function as a sounding board for you. I understand your choice to be anonymous and will not take it personally if you don’t ever email me.
But, if you do, I can share some local options and also online resources that might resonate with you.
There is no “right” or “official” way to “be” a person of color. If you are read as a person of color and identify as a person of color, then that is YOUR experience and it is valid. You have a right to seek community and to feel affirmed.
Don’t let a few bad apples who alienated you keep you from the gift of being an active part of POC communities.
One thing that might be problematic is what you mentioned at the end of your comment:
I want a community where I can seek solidarity w/ people like me but I am alienated from POC and white communities.
Since you didn’t provide additional context, I can only speculate on the few possible factors that informed this statement:
- You would like to be a part of an Armenian-American community, but are having trouble finding a group of people who identify as Armenian-American in the ways that you do to feel affiliated with/affirmed by
- You have already tried to be involved in POC events and groups in your hometown but felt alienated by x actions that resulted in you feeling left out or erased
- You are seeking “solidarity” out of a need to affirm your ethnic heritage
If any of those things apply, I sincerely hope you are able to find other Armenian-American folks to connect with locally and online. There are many ways to go about this.
I don’t know what you already tried or exactly what you are looking for, but all your language points to a person who is determined to find a place where they feel like they belong.
I encourage you to - in the process of finding an Armenian-American group/s to feel affirmed by - consider the value of participating in a broad range of POC groups/events.
Solidarity in POC communities is critical to our liberation and to dismantling institutional racism. I am not going to tell you what this should look like for you, because that wouldn’t be appropriate.
Instead, I’m going to give you a few glimpses into my own process and hopefully that is helpful in some way:
Practicing Solidarity Strategies Every Day = Very Easy Way To Find - And Be Accepted By - MULTIPLE POC Communities
I am not Black. I am Chicana. My partner is Black and I have many Black friends/collaborators, as well as a few Black people in my living family tree (as well as back up in the roots) ;).
Does this mean I only go to events for Chican@s/Latin@s? No.
Does this mean I think that I have a right to identify as Black, or to think that all Black spaces are/should be open to me? No.
I address opportunities and conflicts on a case by case basis.
Solidarity for me (in relation to the struggles and aspirations of Black people worldwide), and as part of my process to affirm my partner, is to support Black(and folks of varying backgrounds from the African diaspora) groups/movements in the following ways:
* With my physical presence at events where it is appropriate for me to be there (I don’t ask to attend Black-only events that are intended to be private and affirming experiences for Black-identified people).
* By donating my time and funds to support Black-led events
* By making it a priority to involve Black folks in POC Zine Project initiatives
I lose nothing by standing in solidarity with my Black brothers, sisters and allies. I gain so much by making myself available in the ways that I can.
I apply this solidarity strategy to multiple communities of color I interact with. Just last fall, I volunteered my time with CAAV, bringing them food to distribute to Sandy victims in NYC.
CAAAV works to build grassroots community power across diverse poor and working class Asian immigrant and refugee communities in New York City.
Am I Asian? No. Did I feel like I didn’t have a right to support CAAV because I’m not Asian? No! Did CAAV reject my support because I’m not Asian? No, of course not!
Since then and moving forward, I will always feel comfortable attending CAAV events and supporting their efforts in any way that I can. I don’t have to Asian to understand what they are doing. I don’t have to be Asian to feel like I can be a part of their community in ways that make sense for me.
You said ”.. therefore I don’t know if I will be accepted in the POC community.”
I can guarantee you that if you are practicing solidarity strategies with POC groups of any background, and supporting their efforts, you will DEFINITELY feel accepted. It is rare for people to reject love and support.
I encourage you to think about whether or not you feel like you can only feel “authentic” solidarity with other Armenian-Americans and how structures built on the back of White Supremacy and Institutional racism MIGHT (only you know) be warping your view about what your level of comfort is when you’re around other POC who aren’t exactly like you.
… I think my world would be much smaller if I ONLY associated with Chican@s/Latin@s, as it would make intersectional analysis of our overlapping struggles as POC very difficult to process.
Again, POC community is not this monolithic member-based organization where everyone follows the same rules. We all have similar goals, but we also have conflicts, as POC, with each other, for reasons informed by geography, class, gender, etc.
In your journey to gain affirmation and support from POC communities, consider your own role in affirming and supporting other POC. If you are not giving anything back, then it’s no suprise that you feel “alienated” which can often be confused with “feeling left out.”
Again, I don’t know you or what your experience has been like. I can only go by what you shared. But I hope you will consider how much personal power you possess and how you can use it to create and participate in your ideal POC community.
We hope to hear from you soon!
I’m thrilled about your zine idea and would love to help you find a distro and promote its release, at the very least. Depending on the content, we can also discuss tabling with it during our tour.
Here are some responses from our Facebook community:
Spectra Speaks said: Queer Women of Color Media Wire - QWOC Media Wire publishes so much commentary about nationality/ethnicity/non-western ideologies about identity. You are so totally welcome to submit there! I also agree with commenter above — I never fit either, and though it’s hard sometimes, my voice and writing affirms that other people don’t have to either.http://www.qwocmediawire.com/
Evan Pivazyan said: Armenian Anon, who are you? -A fellow Armenian-American who knows exactly what you’re talking about and wants to talk about it.
And this, which just came through our Tumblr right now:
justaguywitharrows asked you:
You are not alone.
Thank you again for having the courage to reach out and good luck finding the community that works for you.
Founder, POC Zine Project