Is It POC, BIPOC or Neither?

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Sep 30, 2020

Language is alive, and like any living thing, it changes with time. Enter the debate around the phrase “people of color” or POC, and opponents have begun to argue against it.

To better understand how people relate to POC versus BIPOC, NPR’s “Code Switch” podcast shared listeners’ thoughts on the show and online Wednesday (September 30) in the new episode “Is It Time To Say R.I.P. To ‘P.O.C.’?

To begin with, the language that Black people have used to self-identify over the decades has changed. For example, Malcolm X started using "Afro-American" interchangeably with Black. And now there’s the more recent introduction of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Last year, activist Seren Sensei wrote in a blog post that “Black is not synonymous with POC: all Black people are persons of color, but all persons of color are not Black. And non-Black persons of color, or NBPOC, still benefit from and can practice anti-Black racism.”

With these thoughts in mind, the “Code Switch” crew, hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby, sourced listeners’ feelings whether it was time to retire POC for BIPOC, or best to avoid them all. See some of the highlights below:

POC = us:

"I like POC because it evokes an image of us, unlike the terms nonwhite or minority, where whiteness is front and center."  — Javier Pineda, age 35 

Not all POC are the same:

"I’m Egyptian American. Whenever asked about my ethnicity, I would always just say ‘Egyptian American,’ sometimes Arab American. As a white Egyptian, I’ve never experienced the same oppression in the U.S. that other people of color have. … However, when placed in contrast to whiteness, it sort of creates this impression that anyone who is nonwhite is just under the same umbrella and is a monolith, which is very problematic." — Dina Shalash, 37

When white people use it, it’s weird:

"I liken the term … to mean solidarity among our collective experiences as nonwhite, especially our experiences as nonwhite in the United States. There’s obviously a lot of variation within those experiences. I just wish these terms were used more often to mean this coalition and not as a euphemism, like the way "diverse" is often used, especially by white people who don’t want to say Black." — Maricela Gonzelez, 29 

BIPOC, instead? Meh:

"Surprisingly, I actually do hate BIPOC. Originally, I thought it referred to Black and Indigenous people of color, which I loved. But apparently it means Black, Indigenous and people of color, which is just a longer version of POC, but it makes White people feel like they did something different, even though I’m sure it has origins with non-White folks. Yeah. Oh, well." — Kaylee Arnold, 29

So just use Black, thank you:

"I feel that the term POC is nonsense, and I think it’s a way for non-Black people to sit comfortably in their anti-Blackness because they’re so afraid to say Black. So they come up with these terms that make them feel comfortable, with their whiteness or their adjacency to whiteness. And I get irritated—not irritated, vexed—when people refer to me as POC or BIPOC. Like, no, absolutely not. I’m Black, don’t play me." — Christine Harris, 21

To listen to the full episode, click below: