It fails to differentiate other racial/ethnic minority groups.
The term BIPOC separates Black and Indigenous peoples from other marginalised races/ethnicities, and for an understandable reason. Right now, in North America, these two groups are facing enormous obstacles that others are not. Making that distinction is reasonable; however, the issue arises when that same distinction is not made for other POC. South Asian people, Latinx people, Middle Eastern people, etc, are all being grouped together despite many of them not having the privileges of someone who is white-passing. The exclusion caused by this term largely stems from its origin. It was first notably coined in Canada where the Latinx population is not substantial, making up only 1.3% of the population as of the last nation census.
It generalises oppression, disregarding circumstance.
While it goes without a doubt that the Black community and the Indigenous community both need all of our support, it only creates harm when people compare the general oppression certain groups face. For example, while it can easily be said that East Asian people are treated as a model minority and are statistically the highest-earning ethnic group in the US, it should also be noted that in Los Angeles County, elderly Korean and Cambodian people are more likely to live in poverty, and without healthcare, than any other ethnic group. So despite generally being less in need of aid as a race, that doesn’t negate the certain circumstances people belonging to said race may find themselves facing. It also doesn’t mean that there is no need for aid at all.
It generalises the experiences of Black and Indigenous people.
Similar to the way that Black and Indigenous people face injustice on a different level than other POC, people within the Black/Indigenous community experience injustice at different levels depending on multiple factors, including the shade of their skin, where they live, their gender, etc. A light-skin Black man is not going to have the exact same experience as a dark-skin Black woman. Colourism plays an enormous role in systemic racism. One that dates back to the 1600s. During American slavery, African slaves could be released after converting to Christianity. But after 1667, this loophole was eliminated; the legal status of Africans becoming tied to skin colour alone. Light-skinned slaves were more often freed since they were considered physically and intellectually superior to those with dark skin. Black men with darker skin were thought to have more recently come from Africa, and were therefore seen and treated as ‘less human’. After slavery was abolished, African-Americans were continuously discriminated against. Even by each other. Some historic African-American organisations practised discrimination by denying memberships, jobs, or entrance to those with darker skin tones. The impact of colourism still runs strong, and the term BIPOC neglects to address it.
It ignores the history of the term POC.
‘People of colour’ started to become the popular term used for non-White people around the 1980s. Leaders in the civil rights movement found strength by coming together as a single, unified force. Alone, the different ethnic minority groups stood less of a chance at making a difference. But when working together as people of colour, they had a much larger impact. Racial discrimination was a burden we could all carry together as opposed to the greater struggle of shouldering our individual burdens alone. MLK said it himself in his famous speech: “We cannot walk alone.” And in that same speech, he used the term ‘citizens of colour’. I am aware that times have changed, and that there is a need for new terms; however, it is important to note that we did not use the term POC to group all of our struggles together, but instead, to fight for all of our struggles together.
It leaves room for an “us vs them” mentality.
Instead of banding together, we have created a hierarchy of colour, where certain ethnic groups quantitatively and qualitatively face more bigotry. But these are things that cannot truly be measured. We cannot compare victims of different crimes because the severity is subjective. What one person deems unforgivable is insignificant to another. So by comparing the discrimination that different racial/ethnic groups face, we unknowingly create an invalidating environment where they feel the struggles they’ve faced are trivial in comparison to that of Black and Indigenous people. And while the triviality could definitely be true in some cases, it is unfair to compare such different experiences to each other. Different doesn’t necessarily mean lesser. And lesser doesn’t necessarily mean unimportant. In the end, comparison can lead to a feeling that other POC have things ‘easy’ or ‘better’. It can create inner conflict when we should be working together to take down an oppressive system that impacts us all.
It downplays Asian struggles during a time of need.
Anti-Asian xenophobia is on the rise because of racist sentiments surrounding the current pandemic. In fact, the increase in racism towards Asian people has been so alarming that the United Nations of Human Rights has recommended governments to adopt a National Action Plan against Racial Discrimination (NAPARD). A study during the COVID-19 outbreak found that Asian and Black people have been more likely to report negative experiences due to their race since the pandemic started. Out of the adults interviewed, 39% of those who were Asian and 38% of those who were Black reported people acting uncomfortable around them, compared to the group average of 20%. 31% of Asian adults and 21% of Black adults reported slurs being used against them, compared to the 12% average. Lastly, 29% of Asian adults and 20% of Black adults reported an instance where they feared someone might threaten or physically attack them, compared to the 11% average. Playing into what has previously been mentioned, Asian minorities are being grouped together with other POC despite attention needing to be brought to this issue.
Originally written on September 20, 2020.
As shown by the date, I wrote this last year, before the "Stop Asian/AAPI Hate" movement. I already knew that anti-Asian xenophobia and racism was getting worse. As someone who is biracial and appears solely as East Asian by society, I continuously experienced that racism first-hand. Even though I was staying at home, racism found its way to me. During this time, I felt so alone. The racism I experienced was being downplayed by others, and it took an enormous escalation before attention was finally brought to the issue. But even that attention seemed lacklustre. The movement referred to it as "hate" rather than what it was: racism. I started seeing yellow squares and profile pictures, as if that wasn't offensive. I was even told that the "fear of Asians" was valid and understandable.
So when is the proper time to use BIPOC?
When discussing issues that are specific to Black and/or Indigenous individuals, using BIPOC makes sense. In fact, it is welcomed! There have been many times where an issue was called out, and non-Black/non-Indigenous POC spoke over those who were actually affected. For example, a non-Black individual might say, "Well, I'm a POC, and I don't think we need the BLM movement!" While, yes, they are a POC, that doesn't then give them the right to speak over Black individuals about issues and experiences exclusive to those who are Black. Simply being a POC doesn't immediately make someone a representative of all POC matters. One is still limited by what they have and haven't experienced, and simply sharing a label with someone doesn't mean those experiences are shared. As a comparison, this would be like a non-trans member of the LGBTQA+ community speaking on trans issues. It's good to be an ally and advocate for others, but it's disingenuous to present oneself as someone personally affected. Members of the LGBTQA+ community are still capable of transphobia, just like POC are capable of racism against other POC.
BIPOC can also be used to refer to POC who are Black and/or Indigenous, as long as they have expressed that they are fine with that label.
When shouldn't someone use BIPOC?
It's not appropriate to use the term BIPOC when referring to issues that are specific to a different racial group. It may also be better to use 'POC' rather than 'BIPOC' when referring to issues that apply to all POC; however, this can greatly depend on what the issue is. For example, issues that affect all POC equally as opposed to issues that affect all POC, but affect Black and/or Indigenous POC more often, more severely, or in a different way. BIPOC isn't an umbrella term for all POC, but rather, a specifier for Black/Indigenous individuals and/or topics. It calls more attention to those who are Black and/or Indigenous where it is needed.
- While discussing systemic racism, either POC or BIPOC can be used, depending on the specific issue. For example, BIPOC could be used when discussing racial profiling, while POC could be used when discussing the model minority myth.
- For terms/labels that are exclusive for all POC, it's better to say POC unless the term was primarily created with Black and/or Indigenous individuals in mind. If it is only exclusive for those who are Black and/or Indigenous, that should be specified instead of using POC/BIPOC.
- When asking for feedback from racial minorities, either POC or BIPOC can be used, but it depends on what the feedback is for. For general issues that affect all POC (eg. cultural appropriation, slurs, colourism, etc), it might be better not to use BIPOC. At the same time, BIPOC can be used if the individual looking for feedback would especially like to hear from Black and/or Indigenous POC.
- When referring to oneself, it's better to use POC if one is not Black nor Indigenous. BIPOC lists Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour separately, so it doesn't quite make sense to specify being Black and/or Indigenous if that is not a part of one's identity. They would instead fall under the last three letters of the acronym: POC. This also applies when referring to other POC outside of oneself; however, don't use the term 'POC' for those who have expressed that they don't want that label used for them.
[Clarification: The title 'Why I Don't Use BIPOC' refers to the fact that I don't use it as an umbrella term, equivalent, or replacement for the term POC. It doesn't mean I don't think it should be used at all. I just think it's important to know that the appropriateness of its use is situational.]