Featured Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Question of the day: What is BIPOC?

This is an acronym that stands for Black Indigenous and People of Color. It may be new to some folks interested in diversity work. Language shifts and changes a lot in U.S. culture. 20 years ago “sending a text” meant something very different than it does today. Sometimes I hear why BIPOC? What happened to African-American, Native -American and other nationalities being represented? And the big question – what about White people? Look, I won’t pretend I can answer this in a way that does justice to the histories and complexities involved by writing a lil think piece. But here are 3 points to get started thinking about this:

  1. Nationalities are not static. Nations change. They change ideals, geographic range, even names. Many of us live in a place where that has not happened in centuries but for much of the world, this is not the case. So, allowing for changes in how people identify is an act of understanding. Check out Benedict Anderson’s classic Imagined Communities for more on that.
  2. Black (of the African continent or diaspora), Indigenous (native to the land being discussed), and People of Color (exactly what it sounds like and maybe more) are not mutually exclusive. These are terms that acknowledge the ways race caste systems, while often shown in sharp relief in the U.S., are not limited to the bounds of what people may refer to as American. This one is a lot to unpack. I would recommend Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste to wrap your mind around what that means.
  3. What about White people? I think to myself…are they ready for this one? Am I about to blow some minds here? Take a strong breath and go on and say what I gotta say. Whiteness. Is. Not. Static. Where are your people from? Italy? Ireland? Maybe someone hails from Eastern Europe? I remember meeting someone in grade school whose family was from Czechoslovakia. I was fascinated. Imagine my surprise when I found out in high school that this place no longer existed (see point 1). Imagine their surprise if they ever found out that they had not always been classified as White in the U.S.! Read Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People to learn more about that.

Whiteness is part of the social construct of race. The rules of it have been shifted and changed as the system’s needs changed. There are even some people who were given “honorary White” status in place of permanent whiteness. Model minority myths are a vestige of the honorary White classification. Some “What about White people?” questioners can check on that and consider that they may be confusing their current White status as one that has always been. Be prepared to find ancestors in the POC area. And if you do, please honor their survival by recognizing what they went through as non-white people.

This was all largely about economics and set to benefit the ruling rich people. Like I said, complex and long history…anyway to the question of what about the White folks, I would generally offer this: When the term BIPOC is used, it is typically signaling an understanding that these identities have suffered in racialized caste categories in ways that people who are considered White have not. Many White people have suffered in this system as well but I am willing to bet that when we dig into the history of those folks, whiteness has not always been attached to their economic and social status. So, the real question should not be what about White people? It should be when did you become White and how has that change in categorization eliminated you as a target of racial caste oppression? Still worried about White inclusion? Ally. Be an ally. Understand that your experience of oppression is not like BIPOC ones and support anti-racism causes that uplift BIPOC folks. Tell your BIPOC friend that you want to support them instead of using your relationship with them as a prop or signal of your anti-racism. Your relationships with BIPOC folks are not anti-racism tools in and of themselves Insisting that having a BIPOC friend makes you anti-racist is (sigh) not it.

Using the term BIPOC is a way to get at the caste element of racial oppression and honor the many ranges of people who are targets of it. It also is a way to celebrate the unity and solidarity in which we overcome oppression and triumph over and over again without needing or desiring the concept of whiteness. BIPOC is a term of joy. And, as some of my folks know me to say – there will be joy! Here is an awesome Airtable for a wider range of resources.

Next up…What are womxn? Oh boy that is going to be fun 🙂 Come on back for more thoughts.