If you’re not familiar with the term, BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Last year, a journalist named Sandra E Garcia wrote an article about the term for The New York Times, and in the article, Garcia sites that the earliest reference that The Times found was from a 2013 tweet by a person or group that goes by the Twitter handle GrindToronto.
Now, you’re probably more familiar with the use of the term POC, which is an acronym that’s been used for centuries across the world to refer to “People of Color,” or those who don’t identify as White. There are several perspectives out there as to why the term BIPOC came to be, but many believe that it was created to highlight and really call attention to Black and Indigenous people, respectively—which are two groups that have historically dealt with non-stop erasure.
So that’s some background for ya! Now, here’s why I don’t like the term, both as a Black Woman and as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion thought-partner...
First of all, it’s confusing! I get questions all the time about what the acronym stands for and how to pronounce it. And just last week I saw a Twitter thread with people trying to sort out the definition! Most commonly, people mistake the term for meaning bisexual People of Color. Some folks pronounce it “bye-pock,” some spell it out B-I-P-O-C… it’s all just confusing
Second, it still doesn’t solve the erasure problem. And in my opinion, neither does the acronym POC—they both lump all non-White people together, and we know that different groups of people have different issues. By lumping us all together, we’re turning a blind eye to the unique inequities that exist for marginalized groups, which are the reality for so many.
Related to that, is my third reason, and probably the most important for me personally, which is that the term BIPOC continues to uphold one of the key elements of White supremacy: maintaining divide amongst non-White communities. The term BIPOC essentially plucks Black and Indigenous people from the mix and then lumps all other non-White communities together. In reality, if we’re trying to grow and achieve true equity, we can't keep trying to place hierarchy on groups of non-White people. And we certainly can’t keep doing this “my struggle is worse than your struggle” thing.
Unity, empathy, and understanding amongst non-White communities is essential to dismantling White supremacy. Period.
That’s not to say that it is the responsibility of non-White people to dismantle the systems and structures that White supremacy has built and maintained. But, continuing to maintain a divide just continues to uphold and feed those systems and structures.
Last but not least, I’m finding that White people in particular like using the terms POC and BIPOC when referring to a specific non-White community, because it’s more “comfortable” to say.
I facilitate a lot of inclusive leadership discussions with White professionals, and I often see them get visibly uncomfortable, sometimes stumbling over their words, rubbing their foreheads, etc., when it comes time to have discussions or to ask questions specific to a certain group of people. And part of that, I think, comes from a lack of shared language and understanding. For example: people often ask: “Should I say Black or African-American?” or “Should I say Hispanic or Latinx/Latinae?” Whew (I won’t get into this here, but encourage you to click the links I just shared)!
POC and BIPOC should not be used for your comfort, especially if you are a White person. Again, going back to my earlier point, it turns a blind eye to the unique histories, experiences, and inequities that various non-White communities carry.
So that’s that. I just wanted to share some thoughts. Have a different perspective or thoughts to share? Leave a comment on the video or drop me a line!
See you soon!