Women of color

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A West Indian Day parade in 2008 in New York City.

Women of color (singular: woman of color, sometimes abbreviated as WOC) is a phrase used to describe female persons of color. The term is used to represent all women of non-white heritage, often with regard to oppression, systemic racism or racial bias. It relates worldwide to all female persons of color.


Although similar to the term “person of color,” the history of the term women of color has political roots, as explained by Loretta Ross. During the 1977 National Women’s Conference, a group of African American women created the Black Women’s Agenda to work with the conference to substitute the proposed “Minority Women’s Plank” included in the documentation for the conference. When other minority women wanted to be included in the agenda, negotiations to rename the group lead to the creation of the term “women of color” as an inclusive phrase for all minority women. Although it seems to have biological connotations, the term women of color is a unifying term to address the political and social issues.[1]

Feminist movement

The first wave of the feminist movement did not deal with the issues that women of color faced. It was solely about the white middle class women. As feminism slowly began to address the cultural inequalities, especially after modeling the civil rights movement, women of color decided to needed to create their own "feminism". In the 1980s Africana Womanism was created to practice Afrocentricism due to the fact that in America, many things were from a Eurocentric stand point. The mujerista movement also came about during this time to battle the issues that Latina women of color were facing.

The struggles of women of color needed to be addressed more head on, and with this ideology, the black women of color were able to let their voices be heard. Intersectionality—the idea that there are many different areas in a person’s life that define how one experiences the world around them such as age, sex, race, gender, sexuality, and dis/ability, among many others—is important when looking at the contributions women of color had to the feminist movement. Within feminist movement it is important to focus on issues specific to women of color because they face struggles unique to them as both women and people of color. This is commonly known as double jeopardy. Women of color had to not only deal with the problems of being a woman, but they had to deal with the fact that they were marginalized as people of color and the negatives that come along with that. Being that they were women of color, they were usually of lower socio-economic status as well. Women of color could not solely focus on the issues that women faced when dealing with many other factors as well. This unique lived experience often goes unacknowledged or ignored in mainstream feminist movement. Maylei Blackwell discusses this historical silencing of “other” aspects of feminisms in her book ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement and the need for what she calls retrofitted memory.[2] Retrofitted memory is a form of countermemory against privileged readings of history that allows marginalized perspectives to be recognized.

Media Representation

In the United States, media is very white-washed. The media tends to broadcast women with eurocentric, thin features. Women of color are lightened by different companies, stripped of their heritage and pride, or photoshopped to appear slimmer. Women of color also face dehumanization by the media. The white women are usually portrayed as angelic and innocent. When a woman of color gets casted on a TV show, they are often portrayed with having an attitude, or are very sexual. These women also face lower body satisfaction, because they either have two options: be slim, or be curvy. Women of color are forced to try to live up to a standard that is set by white women, which in most cases is unreachable.

Violence Against Women

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was implemented to protect women against men’s violence. However, cases of violence against indigenous women living on tribal land in the U.S. often went ignored or unnoticed because the closest federal police station would be far away from the land and there were not enough resources to send officers. As a result, men who were U.S. citizens would specifically target women and girls on tribal land because those men knew it would be near impossible to be prosecuted. In these situations VAWA failed to protect women living on tribal land. However, in 2013 a renewal was passed that addressed these issues, although many say that there needs to be further legislation.

The Patriarchy

“Patriarchy, the System”, by Allan G. Johnson defines the term “patriarchy” as a set of symbols and ideas that make up a culture embodied by everything from the content of everyday conversation to literature and film. Johnson continues by discussing how the patriarchy regulates the way social life is expected to be and what it’s about: male centered character, male-identified and male dominance. Women of color are the majority of those who are oppressed by this system. Johnson notes that we all participate in the system and will always be apart of it. We can only control how we participate in the patriarchy. The structure of the patriarchy exists in the unequal distributions of power, opportunities, resources, and rewards. This is what makes male dominance possible. When we assess the social norms around us, the involvement of the patriarchy becomes clear. Johnson gives excellent examples: the standards of feminine beauty and masculine toughness, the media portrayal of feminine vulnerability and masculine protectiveness, acceptance of older men involved with younger women and elderly women alone, a career as primary for a husband, childcare being a priority of women and secondary for men, defining men and women as opposites, the acceptance of male aggression as naturalness but not for women, and the devaluing of femininity and being female. Although all women are affected, women of color suffer more than anyone else within this system.


  1. "Loreta Ross on the phrase women of color". Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  2. Blackwell, Maylei (2011). ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement. Austin, TX: University Of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292726901. 


  1. "Beauty Whitewashed: How white ideals exclude women of color". Beauty Refined Blogs. Retrieved 7 December 2015.