The MOSAIC and LGBTQ+ Resource Center hosted a virtual Evolving Language event on Feb. 7 that gave UCCS students, staff and faculty the opportunity to learn more about the identity terms Black, African, African American or BIPOC.
Panel guests included Stephany Rose Spaulding, interim associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion and Kevin Mitchell, a community organizer and activist involved with NAACP.
MOSAIC community outreach coordinator Irina Amouzou began the event with a brief statement about the Evolving Language Series, explaining that the series is focused on interrogating endonyms and exonyms that both perpetuate and combat harmful narratives surrounding minority groups.
Panelists were asked to discuss their identities, and how social perceptions of Black individuals have shaped their understanding of the terms Black, African American and BIPOC today.
Delving into the differences between “Black” and “African American” as identities for race and ethnicity, Spaulding started the conversation by confronting the issue with racial and ethnic “generalizations,” expressing that in mainstream media, all Black bodies tend to be grouped into one category.
“Colonization complicates what we perceive as African descent,” she said. The consequences of this complication blurs the line between ethnicity and race in a detrimental way, and often force Black people to adopt titles they are uncomfortable with for the sake of upholding false ideas around race and ethnicity brought about by White people.
“I used to get really upset by the African American title,” Mitchell said, since it serves more as a catch-all term for Black Americans. Mitchell said he felt frustrated by the title despite its use sometimes being necessary for correctly addressing individuals of African descent, regardless of racial aspects like skin color.
Amouzou pointed out that this sense of “catch-allism” is also part of the reason why they decided to stop calling themselves a “person of color,” as it upholds the predominantly White belief that race is not a dichotomized spectrum, even though evidence proves otherwise.
“How close we are to the White side of the spectrum impacts how [we] are perceived,” Spaulding explained. Because of this, Black experiences are not necessarily homogeneous with the experiences of other people of color.
Mitchell further pointed out that since “Whiteness likes to center itself,” it diminishes unity. Even with terms like “people of color,” White people are still rendered as being “separate” from everyone else, which is harmful.
In closing, Amouzou opened the floor for a Q&A, allowing audience members to ask the panelists questions about the conversation they had, and contribute any of their own points as well.
Several members of the audience spoke up, initiating discussions about the problematic use of the term “white-washing,” as well as the role that gatekeeping plays in the maintenance and cultivation of Black culture and language today.
The next “Evolving Language” event will take place on Mar. 7 from 5-6:30 p.m. in UC 110 and via Zoom, and will address “When to use Female vs. Women vs. Womxn vs. Femme.” Students, staff and faculty can RSVP for the event on Mountain Lion Connect.