Use of the term People of Color (POC)

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This topic contains 39 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  jakelafort 1 day, 20 hours ago.

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  • #38249

    Davis
    Moderator

    I would personally avoid the term “people/persons of colour” myself. I understand where both of you are coming from, but I recognise that a word can carry historical baggage with it even if in the use of the word the speaker never meant to convey that baggage. We see that kind of thing when people use the term “spiritual” (we have had many discussions on this word before). I know this is a different kind of baggage, but I would suggest that if there is an alternative term that doesn’t carry the baggage, it might be better to use that term. Having said that, a community can label themselves however they want.

    #38252

    Autumn
    Participant

    I would personally avoid the term “people/persons of colour” myself. I understand where both of you are coming from, but I recognise that a word can carry historical baggage with it even if in the use of the word the speaker never meant to convey that baggage

    I’m loath to believe that black people who use ‘POC’ are typically oblivious to the historical baggage of ‘coloured’.

    Having said that, a community can label themselves however they want.

    And that speaks to the point that irks me. Even within a community, there often isn’t going to be perfect consensus. Often there can be considerable disagreement. I have no intention of dictating to people how they should refer to themselves or should want others to refer to them. But on this particular topic, having gone through a lot of discussion and reading on why ‘POC’ and “BIPOC’ should or should not be used, or under what circumstances or what additional considerations, I can see that many of the people out there aren’t simply well-intentioned, but rather well informed. So where my back is up is I don’t want people being dismissive or essentially twisting what others are saying.

    Naturally, there is always some danger that I am projecting. I recall in Vancouver not so long ago, a familiar debate kicked off when an LGBTQ+ community resource used ‘queer’ in its name. The perspectives of mostly (but not exclusively) older gay men who have only experienced ‘queer’ as an abusive term were definitely important. Enough so that I don’t think a space should be named in a way that is exclusionary to them. But where it bothered me is when some of those men deigned to ‘educate’ those of us who prefer the term ‘queer’ to basic facts we all already knew without investing a single fuck into why we prefer the term we do. Especially since this was on top of so many cis-het people opinioneering on every damn term we use for ourselves, often condescendingly trying to inform us as to what is useful or meaningful or to their mind inclusive, as if, you know, people like me were just blank slates waiting to be filled up with their basic af knowledge on our own lived experiences, research, and accumulated knowledge.

    This is not to suggest that the linguistic travails of LGBTQ+dom are identical to those faced by racial/ ethnic minorities. Not hardly. This conversation puts me in a strange place as I am definitively not the person to be defining ‘POC’ and ‘BIPOC’ nor asserting their validity. And yet I have at least enough knowledge having worked with people in activist, education and human rights advocacy spaces, who fit under the ‘BIPOC’ acronym who put a great deal of thought into the words they use. Some of them have university degrees in this. Careers in this. And I know the social dynamic where people try to fight you over every fucking word; constantly try to get you to reduce the language you have to describe your experiences and struggles; try to bring your language down to their convenience instead of investing in learning where you’re coming from because not every truth can be served up ready-to-eat. This idea that they are being unintentionally racist by using ‘POC’ when they do? I mean, if that’s the route someone wants to argue, hopefully they have the dignity to make a more compelling argument that spitting up basic shit to people who are well-informed and act with intention.

    At the heart of it, it’s that sort of dismissiveness that gets under my skin.

    #38253

    jakelafort
    Participant

    The first time i heard the label POC it hit me viscerally. Then I thought about it and decided my gut reaction was right. And every time i have considered it since i have found it indefensible. Sure, a community can call itself what it chooses. But names matter. Choose poorly and damage is inflicted. How many kids will grow up and be impacted by the name POC? I wonder how much thought is given to the term POC by nonwhites. There is such a strong tendency to accept the majority position without questioning it. It is like the myth of the free market as to free speech. It is so obviously BS but it is trotted out endlessly.

    Adding People of in no way sanitizes the calumny of being seen by the oppressors as having color and not seeing it in themselves. Being colored nonwhite was the Jewish Star of biology. The recapitulation and affirmation of the racist perspective and fiction as to skin hue is a travesty. There the signs stood side by side. WHITE…COLORED. If Blacks had enslaved Whites the sign might have read BlACK…COLORED. Well-intentioned though the label makers may be yet their choice of words was awful. Words convey meaning that may not coincide with the intentions of the authors.

    #38260

    Unseen
    Participant

    “People of color” means “people who aren’t white.” So, if you are black, nonwhite Hispanic or Portuguese, Asian, Pacific islander, you enjoy being in a catch-all racial category defined by people outside the category. There are difficult cases: dark-skinned Italians, Greeks, or Middle Easterners, whose complexion may be due to past romantic interludes with Africans. So, if you’re a Native American and you meet a Maori or Thai person, congrats!. According to white people, you’re related to each other by your non-whiteness.

    What am I getting at? I don’t really know. LOL

    I think the concept of race introduces so much heavily-charged confusion into the world.

    If we all were blind, would we get along much better or would we just find a different set of distinctions to form discriminatory attitudes around?

    #38263

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Person of colour in official usage is dated to at least the 1807 Act that ended the African slave trade.

    There would be no importation of “any negro, mulatto, or person of colour with intent to hold, sell, or dispose of such negro, mulatto, or person of colour, as a slave, or to be held to service or labour.” Later there are state statutes that define person of colour that look like the Nuremberg laws.

    Apparently the term Colored was chosen by emancipated slaves. Colored has gone by the wayside except as a slur or pejorative term. I predict at some point people will wake up and treat the current designation in the same way.

    #38297

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    Language evolves, and POC seems pretty mainstream to me, lacking the sting it had in the past. Here is an example:

    https://www.npr.org/2020/08/23/905266596/how-women-of-color-in-politics-have-been-perceived

    #38298

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Pope, no doubt POC is mainstream. Does that make it okay?

    Pre-emancipation Whites called Blacks a host of hurtful names like nigger, negro, colored, picaninny and darky. The ring conveys a sting and produces imagery that is shameful. Those ugly tags were mainstream and contemporary expressions of racism. Being mainstream is in itself insufficient basis for being acceptable. I suppose the fact that it is a tag adopted by Blacks makes it less offensive. I am aware that in Patois Jamaican Black children are often referred to as Pickney. Pickney is a term derived from picaninny which has racist roots. The Jamaicans i have spoken to about this issue are unaware of the racist roots and the term is neutral.

    On the other hand POC was used historically along with Colored in the context of racism. To adopt a tag that has historical roots connected to slavery makes no sense to me when all but the greatest dunderheads will make the color connection.

    It is even worse when the tag itself can only be understood with reference to the offending oppressors, the whites. It requires acceptance of the fiction that Whites are without color. Defining an entire population that way and then expanding the coverage of POC to other populations or ethnic groups increases the titular power balance of nonwhites even more. And i have to ask how many Black kids will internalize the barely veiled message of inferiority.

    #38300

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    ( @unseen, I think these posts on usage of POC are off-topic but interesting, so I’ll create another topic and move them from here to there, unless you object?)

    Jake, you’re probably more well read than I am, and have a valid perspective. (And I mean that, as I admit I’m not well read, in general. But then I have a natural empathy for people who aren’t well read, for whatever reason.)

    My overview of human nature is informed more by how we behave as a species, and how we can communicate with each other to improve our behaviors. Of course history matters and informs us, but how can we judge others and their languages, based on that history, before communicating with them in a current, common language? Before we can have bilateral communication (which should be the ultimate goal, right?), personal feelings and opinions remain just personal, not shared.

    So who decides what language is acceptable? Believing in human rights, as long as those rights don’t infringe on others’ human rights, I leave the issue of acceptable labels on the the people who self-identify with them. IMO in this case, that makes POC is acceptable. The meaning of POC has evolved in spite of its history. (As has the word queer, mentioned earlier in this thread… and other words and phrases.)

    The context of how words are used matters: per the user’s intention and its impact on others. It’s one thing to be ignorant of language’s historical context, but it’s another, higher level of malevolence to use words to diminish a group of people. POC is generally not used that way, today. Even if it’s used that way by some people, the good guys here are owning its most popular usage.

    jakelafort wrote:


    Being mainstream is in itself insufficient basis for being acceptable. I suppose the fact that it is a tag adopted by Blacks makes it less offensive.

    […]

    It is even worse when the tag itself can only be understood with reference to the offending oppressors, the whites. It requires acceptance of the fiction that Whites are without color. Defining an entire population that way and then expanding the coverage of POC to other populations or ethnic groups increases the titular power balance of nonwhites even more. And i have to ask how many Black kids will internalize the barely veiled message of inferiority.

    The impact of “POC” in language may be as you feel, but would you roll back the clock on “queer”, too? I agree that understanding those impacts in historical terms is important, but feel that in this case, CRT would be a valid, academic way to address it.

    Ideological opposition to CRT is another example of human-cultural flaw, currently viral in one particular political party bent on control over the culture at large. This is the party that uses conspiracy theories to motivate white supremacy, or at least to pander to white supremacists. Fittingly, opposition to CRT is an attempt to ignore self-examination of our flaws, which is unfortunately a rule that’s practically built into our political system. When I critique USA in public forums, I’m still hearing emotionally hyperbolic responses like “you just hate America”. (That’s their version of “cancel culture”, right?)

    #38301

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Pope,

    As to being well read i was an animal from age 6 to beginning of law school. Thereafter i would feel guilty if i were not reading law so i curtailed the bajasus out of reading. I am extremely well versed in the racing form though!

    I think you may be insinuating that my interpretation of POC is idiosyncratic and personal and therefore insignificant. If so you may be correct. But i made the distinction between a word in common usage with clear racist roots that have apparently been forgotten. Pickney is on the basis of mass ignorance A Okay. I distinguish such a transitional tag from POC. (By the way i think the first usage of POC may have been in Haiti where mixed French and Black were known as POC.) POC i have to assume has a clear passage back to slavery by association and historical usage.

    I would love to see some experiment to investigate the psychological impact of P0C on POC. My gut says it is a big time negative with kids. But i sure as hell can’t prove it. Just a hunch. Am i so weird that my reaction to POC as a demeaning and baseless label is unique? haha…maybe..

    Writes Pope…So who decides what language is acceptable? Believing in human rights, as long as those rights don’t infringe on others’ human rights, I leave the issue of acceptable labels on the the people who self-identify with them. IMO in this case, that makes POC is acceptable. The meaning of POC has evolved in spite of its history.

    That is a sensible take. I am simply giving my opinion. I was fine with African American. We have fill in the blank, Irish, Italian, Polish Americans. That would make African Americans as a label the equivalent. I am fine with Black. It is equivalent to White and none of the racist baggage or ridiculous fiction as to color or the existential dependence on Caucasians. Of course if my hunch is correct and POC does psychological damage then it is a bad label that should be dropped. As to queer i have to plead ignorance. My memory is that queer was a tag that arose before gay. I don’t know if the connotations of queer are on a par with gay. That song just earwurmed me…Isn’t it queer? Don’t you agree?

    Yes i agree that CRT is a great way to explore the history of POC and in so doing perhaps some of the proponents of the label will reverse their support and i will be vindicated! But yeah the reaction to CRT is sickening reactionary hold on to the power structure and perpetuate the nonsense patriotic lies.

    #38307

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    I think you may be insinuating that my interpretation of POC is idiosyncratic and personal and therefore insignificant. If so you may be correct.

    I’d never say the way that anyone feels is insignificant. I’m open to hearing about other experiences too, especially  the younger people you’re thinking of. The tween and teen years are pretty much the roughest years wrt interpreting the goings on of the world, and developing (often involuntarily) one’s identity, knowledge of culture, and one’s potential roles in it. To be honest, I’m more worried about how this is affecting you! So now I have two reasons to hope that you’ve been over sensitive to the term, and I hope you can admit that someday. (No, I’m not for sure saying that you are absolutely wrong, I’m just hoping, for the sake of both you and the kids out there who are most familiar with the POC term.) 🙂

    Funny thing though, I haven’t even thought about whether my half-Asian daughters consider themselves POC, or how they feel about the label. They’re pretty savvy when it comes to understanding what racial biases (and other cultural identity issues) are out there, so I’ll definitely ask them. They did go through some of the typical identity challenges, saying they were perplexed and somewhat troubled by not knowing how to answer naive kids’ question “So, what are you?”. It’s simple enough when older to just say half-American and half-Asian, or half-white and half-Asian. (Also funny, I think of “yellow” with its pejorative history. I need to ask them about that, too. I’ve never heard anyone say “half white and half yellow”.)

    #38313

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Pope: Funny thing though, I haven’t even thought about whether my half-Asian daughters consider themselves POC, or how they feel about the label.

    Halfs go to the other half. I am half jewish but seen as jewish…never irish or french. Obama was half white but is always black. Look our first black prez so we are doin fine fine. I betya anything your daughters are seen as Asian if they have telltale signs like an epicanthic fold.

    So i aint mistookin i was lookin to see if my take on POC was my bad cookin. Nope. Found a few articles. Here is one of em. https://www.gq.com/story/author-damon-young-on-bipoc-phrasing
    Saw several references to how the French in their colonies when they made sex boo boo referred to their boo boo as coloureds or people of colour. So it is precisely as i surmised. The lens of color is through the eyes of the dominant group. So i will need some goddamn good advocacy of POC as a descriptor to change my position. To adopt the perspective of the original oppressors and perpetuate the sensitivity and social hierarchy of color all the while maintaining the fiction of colored others and paradigm Whites if feckin asinine!

    Back to Yellow. I can’t think of much yellow reference other than Yellow peril and that bad singer’s line…gonna kill the yellow man.

    #38314

    Simon Paynton
    Participant

    @jakelafort – I agree with you, using the term POC is as if white people are the standard, and everyone else is strange or special.  Perhaps non-white would be a more neutral term.  But then, it sounds like it’s saying someone is a non-person.

    Is it right to find a catch-all term for everyone who isn’t white?  I guess like you say, it’s necessary to identify the “dominant” group, and by extension, everyone else.  But I don’t know how to do this in a nice way.

    #38315

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Hay.la.luyah Simon…glad to know somebody agrees with me.

    Most of the authors i read who dislike the term, POC, are opposed because of how it has broadened in meaning to be more inclusive. In being more inclusive it fails to distinguish the levels of oppression various people have experienced. For me that is legit but secondary. STOPS the rant cold.

    I think the term POC can simply be scrapped. Individual populations can have separate terms. But if we must then i would like to flip the narrative and call POC…COLORFULS and Caucasians either Blands or Insipids.

    #38316

    jakelafort
    Participant

    Quick addendum: An entire population or populations ought never be defined by their nexus to another group particularly when that nexus paints them in a bad light-the lens through which they had been perceived.

    #38318

    PopeBeanie
    Moderator

    Found a few articles. Here is one of em. https://www.gq.com/story/author-damon-young-on-bipoc-phrasing

    Works for you, but not me… that “article” is one person’s POV/opinion, hyperbolic, and anecdotal.

    Do any of your found articles reflect a more culture-wide authority than that? I’m willing to hear evidence. Just the facts please, your honor. 🙂

    So I did some research, too. Admitting that there’s a possible bias in Google Search results that reflects my own personal biases, here is a list, in order, of the first results I got. None of them mention the pejorative usage of POC, or at least there’s no strong hint of pejorative usage, until a more comprehensive wikipedia entry.

    Within that wikipedia section:

    Political scientist Angelo Falcón argues that the use of broad terms like “person of color” is offensive because it aggregates diverse communities and projects “a false unity” that “obscure[s] the needs of Latinos and Asians.”[…] Citing the sensitivity of the issue, Falcón suggested that there should be “a national summit of Black, Latino and Asian community leaders” to discuss “how can the problem of the so-called ‘black/white binary’ be tackled in the way it respects the diversity it ignores and helps build the broader constituency for racial social justice that is needed in the country” and to “open the way for a perhaps much-needed resetting of relations between these historically-discriminated against communities that can lead to a more useful etymology of this relationship.”

    I understand that criticism, but it ignores what’s in general usage and focuses, again, on one person’s POV.

    I think we can all agree we’re talking about historic and contemporaneous oppression, in general terms, of white over non-white people, right? Yes, these are generalities, using stereotypical terms, but they are historically accurate for the most part, right? I’m not even claiming that whites or non-whites are intrinsically superior or inferior, I’m just stating historical fact. If humans in Africa evolved as white, and humans on the Euro-Asian continent evolved black, we would have exactly the same evolutionary, historic consequences, except that colors would be reversed and we’d hear how under-represented “non-Coloreds” were, and are.

    The book Guns, Germs, and Steel woke me up to how human evolution and circumstances led to the oppressions we’re discussing. White dominance, not because of any intrinsic superiority, but due to circumstances, and a legacy of human nature and culture evolving to enhance that dominance over others with less means at their disposal. Religion has been a co-conspiring tool for this purpose. Fuck, Jesus became white!

    I’ll quit my rant now. I’m not a complete foe of political correctness, but isn’t that what this conversation is about? IMO, you are taking on the role of defining what’s politically correct in language. I do not mean that as a significant criticism, or pejorative, but as an impassioned observation. I don’t think PC is as bad as it’s been characterized, and PC’s roots in empathy and social justice sentiment are more valid than many others’. I wholeheartedly respect and appreciate your well-intentioned point of view on this topic.

    That said, I’m still interested in hearing/seeing evidence of how usage of the term affects young people negatively more than enlighteningly. (That’s not a word, I think… I’m just trying to help language evolve, too, in ways that make sense. The young will keep making that happen, too… well, in spite of also muchly corrupting it here and there.)

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