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

Regarding the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial

The George Floyd Mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Like with many people in the United States, and across the world, my heart was beating at a mile a minute as the judge in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial read the verdict on all three counts:

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

After I heard the verdict, I was personally relieved. I know many others who feel relieved with the verdict as well, for it meant that George Floyd’s life mattered enough that the police officer who killed him went to prison.

However, in my own humble opinion (humble because I do not have to worry about police on a daily basis like my friends of color do), what we saw today was not justice for George Floyd. Justice would’ve been if George Floyd didn’t get killed at the hands of Derek Chauvin.

Instead, what we got was accountability. Namely, accountability for a chokehold that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Derek Chauvin, the person who killed George Floyd, was held accountable for that chokehold.

That accountability often does not happen. Look at Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and many others. All of these individuals were killed by police officers, and yet the police officers who killed them didn’t go to jail. In all these cases, we got neither justice nor accountability.

The ultimate goal should be justice, period. Justice means that Blacks are treated the same by law enforcement as others–something that is far from being the case. Justice means that Blacks aren’t so disproportionately subject to everything from marijuana use to being shot at in spite of being unarmed.[1] Justice means that my friends of color and my brother’s friends of color are given the same treatment by law enforcement that I receive.[2] But justice goes beyond policing–it means the elimination of racial inequality in everything from our schools to our economic systems. Reaching this goal of justice will not be easy, and it may take a long time to achieve this goal (especially as long as too many people keep electing politicians who do everything in their power to keep us from marching towards justice), but that should be our goal.

However, we can hope that the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial will at least be a first step towards accountability. Namely, accountability in terms of how Blacks are policed. With accountability, we can get a step closer to making sure that Black lives truly matter.

Please note that I wrote this piece on the fly, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.


[1] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/06/01/on-the-policing-of-people-of-color-and-the-death-of-george-floyd/

[2] Ibid.

Scapegoating Groups During a Crisis is Nothing New

I live in New York City, where in recent weeks there have been some absolutely horrid hate crimes against people of Asian descent. This is happening in a year when hate crimes against people of Asian descent are on the rise, as well.[1] These hate crimes are disgusting and uncalled for, and such hate crimes cannot be condemned strongly enough.

However, it is not enough to condemn the hate crimes. Instead, we should look at the root cause of them: anti-Asian sentiment related to COVID-19. More specifically, anti-Asian sentiment tied to the gravely mistaken idea that since the virus originated in Asia, people who look Asian are the cause of everything wrong with the situation in the United States (and around the world, for that matter) for the past year. Given that gravely mistaken, yet widespread, idea, it is no wonder that so many Asians have been victims of hate crimes in the United States.

Looking at the big picture, though, hate crimes against Asians during COVID-19 is actually the latest manifestation of a problem we seem to run into in the United States time and time again: if certain people of a particular ethnicity or religion are viewed as causing a crisis, then all too often everyone of that ethnicity or religion is scapegoated to the point of hate and violence.

Here are a few examples of this happening in the past century:

  • In World War I, there was an outbreak of anti-German sentiment that targeted German immigrants, German-Americans, and even the German language. There was a great deal of suspicion about the loyalties of anyone German-related during this time period.[2] All of this was the result of Germany being a foe of the United States in that war.
  • In World War II, people of Japanese descent were moved to internment camps by the United States, once again because of questions and doubts over the loyalties of people of Japanese descent.[3] All of this was a result of Japan being a foe of the United States in that war.
  • After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Muslims and Sikhs were frequent targets of hate crimes—Muslims for being perceived as being like the terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11, and Sikhs for being perceived as being Muslim (because of the turbans Sikh men wear). Some of these crimes happened in my neighborhood in Queens. All of this was the result of a group of Muslims attacking the United States on September 11, 2001.

And now, yet again, people of a particular group are being scapegoated, in the form of people of Asian descent being scapegoated to the point of hate crimes as a result of COVID-19.

Sometimes, history does repeat itself in bad ways.

But what are the implications of the fact that this history does repeat itself in bad ways?

At a personal level, I think it reminds us that this is not a new phenomenon—that of scapegoating groups perceived as being the cause of our problems. It is an issue that has existed for many years, even before many of us were born, and what we see now is the latest manifestation of that old phenomenon.

For policymakers, a start would be to not have rhetoric and/or actions that further fan flames that result in the scapegoating of certain groups. Former President Donald Trump’s calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” could be cited as an example of this problem, but Trump is far from being the only major leader to have made this mistake. For example, the way President Woodrow Wilson spoke unapprovingly of “hyphenated Americans” did not help the cause of German-Americans during World War I,[4] and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Japanese internment camps did not help the cause of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This is not to say that the current situation for people of Asian descent would be perfect if Former President Trump had no “China Virus” rhetoric, but words and/or actions like those certainly do not help. More needs to be done than simply our leadership avoiding the scapegoating themselves, but it’s a start.

Unfortunately, history has repeated itself. However, what we can do is learn from our dealing with hate crimes against people of Asian descent and strive to be better in the future.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2021/02/27/972056885/anti-asian-hate-crimes-rise-dramatically-amid-pandemic

[2] https://www.npr.org/2017/04/07/523044253/during-world-war-i-u-s-government-propaganda-erased-german-culture#:~:text=Some%20Germans%20and%20German%2DAmericans%20were%20attacked%20during%20World%20War%20I.,-Courtesy%20of%20Jeffrey&text=The%201910%20census%20counted%20more,longer%2C%20many%20since%20Colonial%20times.

[3] https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation

[4] https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/immigration/german/shadows-of-war/

Policing and Schools with Majority-Minority Populations

Ever since the storming of the United States Capitol Building on January 6th, there have been ongoing debates about how much security to have at the building, and how much to force members of the United States Congress to be subject to certain security regulations. Some of these debates and disagreements have even resulted in some members of Congress defying security regulations put into place…or at least attempting to do so.[1]

My initial thought when reading about the actions of some of the aforementioned defiant individuals: “This shows how privileged they are—openly defying some of the very same security measures that many kids in schools across the United States have to experience and have no choice in experiencing.” But lately, as drastic as this sounds, my thoughts this issue have turned to other questions.

Why do we have things like police officers, metal detectors, and locked gates at our schools? And why do we need bodyguards in the same space where students learn math, social studies, and science?

I used to assume that it was because school shootings are unfortunately a risk in the United States, and that these measures were an attempt to keep such heinous tragedies from happening.

My assumption was wrong.

As it turns out, the biggest predictor of which schools receive such stringent security measures is not crime in the neighborhood or anything crime-related, but skin color.[2] Evidence of this fact is how majority-minority schools are two to eighteen times as likely as schools with small nonwhite populations (under 20% nonwhite) to have metal detectors, school police and security guards, locked gates, and random sweeps.[3] A blunt way to summarize the current scholarship on security measures at schools is that it’s disproportionately used to treat students of color like suspected criminals.

But if school security measures are used in such problematic and even racist ways, what are the implications? Where do we go from here?

On a practical level, it means that there needs to be an honest answering of two questions:

  1. Should we even have security measures, such as bodyguards and metal detectors, at schools? Interestingly, it is not even a given that said measures even work at accomplishing the supposedly intended goal of keeping schools safe.[4] If the measures don’t even accomplish the goals they are supposed to, they are a huge waste of time for the people involved in keeping things “safe,” as well as a waste of money.
  2. If the answer to the previous question is yes, how can such security measures be better targeted so that we don’t continue to disproportionately treat students of color like suspected criminals?

On a political level, especially in relation to the increased security for members of the United States Congress in the wake of the attempted January 6, 2021 insurrection, I wish that the same energy dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for members of Congress were also dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for schools, and particularly schools that serve large populations of students of color. Security at the United States Capitol is important and should be deliberated, but so should the security of students going to school every day, and making sure that the way we implement security measures at schools is not based on the racial makeup of them. In the wake of mass school shooting tragedies in the last few decades ranging from Columbine to Sandy Hook, we know that the solution is not to completely ignore the issue of school security, but at the same time serious questions should be asked about the way school security is currently approached.

On the big-picture level, in terms of racial issues, the implication is that the issue of security measures in schools is yet another manifestation of racism in the way majority-minority populations are policed (something I’ve talked about in a previous blog post, by the way). While a fair bit of attention on racism and minority populations is focused on the shootings of unarmed people of color, some attention should also be dedicated to the policing of schools where most of their students are people of color.


[1] https://www.denverpost.com/2021/01/12/lauren-boebert-guns-congress-security-stop/

[2] https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/metal-detectors-and-strict-policing-schools-criminalize-minority-students-study-says

[3] The paper that has these findings can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2830885. If you want a summary of the findings, you can read them here: https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/metal-detectors-and-strict-policing-schools-criminalize-minority-students-study-says

[4] Ibid.

Addressing Racial Inequity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

People who have been following the news in the United States would have heard about the challenges this country is experiencing in distributing the COVID-19 vaccines. However, early data seems to be indicating that racial inequity has also affected who gets the vaccines (as if it doesn’t already affect enough things).

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the study of health issues in the United States, has been able to collect data on the percentage of vaccines distributed to different races/ethnicities in a number of states. The results are not very promising: in states where this data has been collected, it appears that the percentage of vaccines distributed to Hispanics and Blacks does not compare to the percentage of COVID deaths or the total populations of those two races/ethnicities.[1] It does not whether we’re talking about a Democratic-run state like Pennsylvania or a Republican-run one like Texas—this is an issue across the board at this stage.

So what might some of the issues be? Some of the news stories I’ve read and other issues that have been mentioned in other sources might give us some hints:

For centuries, there has been abuse of people of color in the medical field.

The instances of the abuse of people of color in the medical field are numerous. From the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”[2] in the mid-20th century to the exploitation of Blacks for medical experiment purposes during the era of American slavery,[3] the history of people of color being medically exploited is about as long as, well, the history of people of color existing in what is now the United States of America.[4]

Because of the centuries-long abuse of people of color in the medical field in the United States, the concern is that this has led to deep mistrust in the advice of public health officials by some people of color. This may result in a deep mistrust when it comes to getting the vaccines—a concern that is held by America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.[5]

In some cases, it is clear that minority communities are not being prioritized as locations for vaccination sites or as locations for vaccine shipments.

I don’t have any hard studies to back this up but instead stories from across the country. The stories are equally compelling and disturbing, though.

In Austin, Texas, there is a severe lack of vaccination sites in the city’s poorest and most ethnically diverse areas.[6]

As of January 27th, 2021, some Black communities in Florida reported having zero vaccine access.[7]

In Dallas, Texas, Southern Dallas clearly did not get priority from the state government in receiving COVID vaccines, even though that part of Dallas got hit by COVID extremely hard.[8]

Stories such as these show that perhaps one of the issues we’re dealing with is that communities of color, and particularly communities of color that have experienced the hardest impacts from COVID, are not getting the priority they should receive.

Language barriers exist, and those responsible for distributing information on vaccines at times put embarrassingly little effort into addressing them.

In Florida, information for Spanish-speaking people who want to take the vaccine is nowhere near what it should be.[9]

In Arizona, there are concerns that there are not adequate Spanish-language interpreters at vaccination sites.[10]

In the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, a neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population, there were no Spanish language interpreters at the vaccine site.[11]


How can we possibly expect people to know the information they need to get the vaccines they need when people have to confront a language barrier? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The concern is that if we don’t make the effort to deal with the language barrier, many people will be left too frustrated to continue in their attempts to receive the vaccinations they need.

The three issues mentioned above are three of the issues that are making it a challenge for people of color to get the vaccinations needed, even though many of the communities hit hardest by this have been communities of color.


[1] https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/early-state-vaccination-data-raise-warning-flags-racial-equity/. I should note here, by the way, that this study includes data on Blacks and Hispanics, but data on Native Americans is still apparently quite limited. Because of the limited data on Native Americans and vaccine usage and distribution, this post will not focus on Native Americans. A second post on the topic of racial inequity and COVID vaccine distribution may be required, if such inequities also exist with Native Americans.  

[2] The short version was that this was a highly unethical study looking to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks. As for a longer version, it’s on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm

[3] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[4] The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, has a longer piece on the issue of medical racism in the United States: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[5] https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/bs-md-vaccine-rollout-disparity-20210125-d2mwyfe7evfthgeoswe54tsb54-story.html

[6] https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2020/12/30/covid-19-vaccination-sites-lacing-east-austin/4091913001/

[7] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2021-01-27/some-black-communities-in-florida-have-no-vaccine-access

[8] https://www.nbcdfw.com/investigations/texas-has-sent-no-covid-19-vaccine-to-southern-dallas-neighborhoods-where-many-have-died/2522753/

[9] https://www.orlandosentinel.com/espanol/el-sentinel-in-english/os-prem-ex-english-covid-vaccine-information-spanish-20210122-hcmmd24hbrfhbcptho4f3tnqkm-story.html

[10] https://www.abc15.com/news/region-west-valley/glendale/do-arizona-covid-19-vaccination-sites-have-enough-bilingual-assistance

[11] https://www.thecity.nyc/coronavirus/2021/1/26/22251524/vaccines-washington-heights-armory