The emergence of "BIPOC": What it means and how it is used
by Ariana Thao
Language, through its usage and power, has shaped many narratives and discussions throughout history. In terms of a U.S. context, the term “BIPOC” has emerged in recent years by social activists working to promote the visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement. Through a complex history of language labeling, the term BIPOC stands for “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.”
BIPOC stems from an effort to reclaim labels that have been previously used to oppress persons from racially minoritized groups. In its origins, “colored people” represented a label that was used by white populations in power to discriminate and alienate those who were not white (Malesky, 2014). This term was problematic because it labeled persons as objects based on the color of their skin.
As an effort to reclaim identities that was driven by the narratives of community members during the Civil Rights Movement, the use of “colored people” as a label was disrupted and an alternative emerged. The term that emerged was one that many are familiar with today, “people of color.” The use of “people of color” was aimed at “humanizing” communities of color and allowed for them to take back and remake the term into something that they had chosen themselves.
BIPOC centers ‘Black’ and ‘Indigenous’ to give their names visibility.
Stemming from The BIPOC Project, the usage of this term allows for members of these communities to reclaim their identities and distance themselves from language that oppresses Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. BIPOC pushes terms of identification even further. Efforts to promote the use of BIPOC aim to problematize the current use of “people of color.” Arguments draw attention to the way "people of color", as a term, erases the experiences of Black and Indigenous communities, painting all communities of color experiences’ as one. The BIPOC project acknowledges that communities of color experience a lot of the same discriminatory practices for not being white. BIPOC centers ‘Black’ and ‘Indigenous’ to give their names visibility. According to the Sunrise Movement, “By specifically naming Black and Indigenous people we are recognizing that Black and Indigenous people face the worst consequences of systemic white supremacy, classism and settler colonialism.” This highlights the unique experiences that Black and Indigenous communities have to whiteness and how other communities of color can perpetuate this relationship. Specifically, groups like the BIPOC Project aim to build authentic and lasting solidarity among Black, Indigenous and People of Color in order to undo Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, draw attention to iterations of white hegemony, and advance racial justice.
When should I use “BIPOC” instead of “POC?”
If you’re specifically speaking about Black and Indigenous people or communities, using “BIPOC” is appropriate. If you’re speaking broadly about all people of color, then “people of color” or “POC” can be used. The BIPOC Project specifies, “We use the term BIPOC to highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.”
But, is it bad to just use POC?
No, but keep in mind that some stories, issues or representations exclude Black and Indigenous people. Sometimes the word POC can be perceived that all people of color (Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Desi, Asian, etc.) have the same exact experiences with injustice.
How do community members use this term?
Terms of self-identification are always a matter of personal choice and should be respected.
Update from Civil Rights Leadership Team
The Civil Rights Leadership Team (CRLT) met last month and decided to suspend the remaining civil rights reviews until 2021 due to the pandemic. This affects Areas 3, 15, 16, and 21. The reviews scheduled for 2021-2024 will be pushed into the following year. An updated schedule can be found at the link below.
The CRLT also has two members that are transitioning off the team: Annie Lisowski and Mike Maddox. We thank them for their passion, dedication, and service. Over the years they have helped improve the county-based review process and coached countless employees on how to expand access for underserved and underrepresented populations to Extension programs and services.
In August, a call for applications to serve on the CRLT will be sent out division-wide. We will be seeking two new members to serve on the team. The call for applications will include an overview of the CRLT structure, description of member responsibilities, incentives for service, and instructions for how to apply. Watch for it!
New on the OAIC website: anti-racism resources and document library
The Office of Access, Inclusion, and Compliance's homepage
Since it was formed last October, the Office of Access, Inclusion, and Compliance (OAIC) has continued to refine its web presence by combining aspects of the former Expanding Access (civil rights) and Language Access Team websites. One of latest enhancements is an anti-racism resource library, developed in response to the renewed attention on racial injustice in this country. The library focuses on self-directed learning for Extension colleagues. The content is organized by type: book recommendations, articles, lessons and training, videos, and links to external databases. Topics include the history of racism, structural racism in America, anti-racism work, biology, culture, housing, education, white privilege, understanding the Black Lives Matter movement, and many others.
Another effort has been to develop a one-stop shop for all the documents, forms, and templates that we use in carrying out our civil rights and expanding access responsibilities. The Language Access Team has also developed a series of infographics to assist in understanding the various aspects of translation and interpretation. The collection of these resources is now found in the documents and forms section of the OAIC website.