In Yoga and the Roots of Cultural Appropriation, the term "people of color" is repeatedly capitalized, though the names of other protected classes are not:

Meanwhile, in order to uphold the foundation and on-going functioning of white supremacist and racial capitalism, white people are taught to be ahistorical and emotionally repressed. In order to maintain the status quo, white people are taught to sublimate and anesthetize feeling. To feel — whether joy, sorrow, or grief — is to be counter cultural in this country. Dominant culture teaches white people, as well as People of Color, to numb through materialism, consumerism, entertainment, prescription and hard drugs, and alcohol. It also socializes white people to consciously or unconsciously misuse power and relate to others from a false sense of superiority.


Especially during this time when the underbelly of capitalism — white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, and xenophobia– is being exposed, it is imperative that everyone, especially those who have access to spiritual practices like yoga, ask difficult questions of ourselves and one another. We must ask, in what ways are we complicit in a system that harms People of Color, queer and trans people, poor people, people with disabilities, and immigrants? Despite our best values and intentions as individuals, our actions (and inaction) are inherently connected with a system of power, privilege, and oppression. If we want to honor the full yoga tradition and live into our values of love, unity, and fairness, we must examine the ways we are upholding “business as usual.”

Should the term be capitalized?

John Hopkins doesn't capitalize it in its style guide. It doesn't mention capitalization of the phrase specifically, though it opposes the capitalization of "white" or "black" in most circumstances. An NPR article about the phrase doesn't capitalize it, nor does the Wikipedia article about the phrase. Wiktionary doesn't have an article explicitly about the phrase, describing its capitalization, and none of the matches from onelook that I looked at discuss its capitalization.

Related questions: Are "white" and "black" ever capitalized when referring to people? (summary: style guides differ) and In an Australian context, should "Aborigine" be capitalised? (summary: if you're talking about Australian Aborigines, yes)

I tried looking at Google NGrams, but while it gave statistical data on the frequency of "People of Color" versus "people of color", I couldn't do a search for texts containing a specific capitalization.

closed as primarily opinion-based by user240918, Skooba, David, jimm101, Nigel J Jan 31 '18 at 20:37

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  • Offhand, I'd guess not - although in doing so the author in question certainly makes a statement. (Observing the evolution or disappearance of a proper noun is probably a bit like watching turtles copulate - it happens really slowly, and mostly it's only interesting to the turtles. ) Good question, though I think it could come down to writer/editor/publisher preference. – Rob_Ster Jan 30 '18 at 11:37
  • Looking through the google book results from 1998 - 2000, the capitalized version seems to be used in headlines, whereas in the body text, the expression is never capitalized. The ngram comparison seems to reflect that. I think that the article you found may simply be an exception. Why the authors of that article decided to capitalize it is probably only answerable by them... – oerkelens Jan 30 '18 at 11:51
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    Capitalising 'People of Color' while leaving 'white people' uncapitalised seems to leave one open to criticism. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 30 '18 at 12:18
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    @EdwinAshworth Ahem, didn't you know the term “white people” might give offence these days? Surely you mean “People of Pallor”! – tchrist Jan 30 '18 at 15:19

The phrase "people of color" is not a proper noun and should therefore not be capitalized.

It is worth noting, however, that this rule is often broken, even in formal writing. It is common for authors to capitalize common nouns if the author is trying to draw attention to the noun. This practice is not prescriptively correct, but it is common, especially in writings about technology and social groups.

The example case given in the question has special considerations due to its social nature. When capitalizing a term used to describe a group of people when the term should not ordinarily be capitalized, it is advisable to capitalize all terms used to describe groups of people in the same writing, lest the author be accused of preference.

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