Colored is a North American euphemism once widely regarded as a polite description of black people (i.e., persons of sub-Saharan African ancestry; members of the "Black race"). It should not be confused with the more recent term people of color, which attempts to describe all "non-white peoples", not just blacks.
The term "colored" appeared in North America during the colonial era. A "colored" man halted a runaway carriage that was carrying President John Tyler on March 4, 1844. In 1863, the War Department established the "Bureau of Colored Troops." The first twelve Census counts in the U.S. enumerated "colored" people, who totaled nine million in 1900. The Census counts of 1910–1960 enumerated "negroes."
Free people of color were sometimes accorded higher status than blacks, because of the association of the latter with enslaved status. In addition, free people of color were sometimes the children of planters who may have passed on wealth in the form of property or education, including apprenticeship to a trade. In the well-established Creoles of color community in New Orleans and southern Louisiana, many people became educated and owned property, including their own businesses. but were more often considered lesser than people of separate ancestry.
The term "Free Persons of Colour" first appeared during colonial times (1600-1800s). It was applied to a variety of ethnic people, to include Black, Native American, Portuguese, Spaniards, Sephardic Jews, Greeks, Italians, Romanians, Moors, Arabs, Asiatic Indians* and Pakistanis* (*who were here as early as the mid 1600s from England, usually as indentured servants), and varied others including mixed races. The common denominator was skin darker than Northern Europeans. The term "colored" was generated from this catagorization, chiefly to indicate those of African ancestry, but to include any person of darker complexion.
The historical term free people of color refers to people of African descent during slavery who lived in freedom. A related term from the time of slavery is gens de couleur, a French expression that refers to the free descendants of white French colonists and Africans. Because so many of these people had mixed African and European ancestry, they are sometimes labeled mulatto. They are also sometimes referred to as affranchis.
Some struggle to identify with the term, arguing the word color merely refers to level of skin melanin, and so fails to define correctly those who are not noticeably non-white or whose racial background includes both races of white and non-white. It should be further noted that terms such as colored people or people of color are technically misnomers; all white people have color in their skin as well, with the exception of albinos.
The term women of color has been embraced and used to replace the term minority women. Some also prefer the term of color to the term minority because they see the latter as describing a stance of subjugation and objectification.
The Apartheid system of racial segregation designated "Coloured" as one of the racial groups, along with "Black", "White" and "Indian". The term is not generally considered offensive in South Africa. Most Coloured South Africans have a cultural identity distinct both from that of Blacks and Whites; some (particularly those who have non-Coloured parents) may adopt the cultural identity of one (or both) of their parents.
The term coloured is also used to describe persons of mixed-race in Namibia, to refer to those of part Khoisan, part white descent. The Basters of Namibia constitute a separate ethnic group that are sometimes considered a sub-group of the Coloured population of that country. Under South African rule, the policies and laws of apartheid were extended to what was then called South West Africa, and the treatment of Namibian Coloureds was comparable to that of South African Coloureds.
In Zimbabwe the term coloured or goffal is used where, unlike South Africa and Namibia, most people of mixed race have African and European ancestry, and are descended from the offspring of European men and Shona and Ndebele women. Under white minority rule in the then-Rhodesia, Coloureds had more privileges than black Africans, including full voting rights, but still faced serious discrimination.
In Swaziland, the term Eurafrican is used.