What Is…BIPOC?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand.

Over the past couple of years, one term that has increased in usage is BIPOC. This term has seen a particularly significant increase in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.[1]

But what is BIPOC, and why is that term significant?

In short, BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. However, it is more than “just” an acronym—it is an acronym that is meant 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.”[2]

In reading many of the sentiments of those who like the term BIPOC, one common theme seems to be how the term reinforces the connections between Black and Indigenous people in experiencing racism in an America. In a way, BIPOC is an acronym of solidarity. While there may be certain experiences of Black people that differ from certain experiences of Indigenous people (for example, how some Black families still grapple with the legacy of slavery and segregation while some Indigenous families grapple with the legacies of Indian boarding schools), there is also that commonality in experiencing that relationship to whiteness that links Black and Indigenous people.

It is worth noting that there is another acronym different from BIPOC, yet also related: POC. POC stands for people of color. Before the events of the past year and a few months, I seldom saw BIPOC but commonly saw POC on social media and elsewhere.

My mention of POC, of course, provokes another question: Does this mean that we should use BIPOC instead of POC from now on? If a 2020 National Public Radio piece which asks the same question is an indicator of anything, opinions are divided on the question.[3] There are strong opinions on this question, but also differing ones. I personally do not feel it is in my place to be involved in the debate over whether to use BIPOC or POC, as I don’t fall under the POC/BIPOC umbrella.

What I do feel, though, is that for those of us who aren’t POC/BIPOC, we should understand both acronyms and their significance. Yet, at the same time, we should be ready to understand what is being talked about when we hear or see others talk about POC or BIPOC, and be ready to use either acronym depending on what our POC/BIPOC neighbors, friends, and colleagues prefer. Hopefully, those who have read this post will now have a greater understanding of both terms when they are used.

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/bipoc-meaning-where-does-it-come-from-2020-04-02/

[2] https://www.thebipocproject.org/

[3] https://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/918418825/is-it-time-to-say-r-i-p-to-p-o-c