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4 Reasons to Stop Using the Word BIPOC…Like Now!

I pride myself on being a continual student of life. I am always looking to learn more about what I do not know. I also know that if I am going to continue to do my work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I can never become too arrogant to think I have it all figured out. Enter the word BIPOC, which is a word I am afraid to admit I just learned about in 2020. I first thought it meant “BIsexual People of Color.” In what I have learned about this term, I have come believe that this term is problematic for several reasons and organizations especially should stop using the term immediately.

According to the New York Times, the term first started appearing in social media circles in 2013. The term started to gain more prominence in 2020 in the wake of protests over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Since then, the term has sprung up everywhere. Organizations such as the BIPOC project are centered on a mission to “build authentic and lasting solidarity among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), in order to undo Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, dismantle white supremacy and advance racial justice.” They also state that they use the term BIPOC 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.” While I respect their mission and the sentiments of others who identify with this word, this term should no longer be adopted into our lexicon for the following four reasons.

  1. The term “BIPOC” is like a double negative (or double positive if you prefer).

If Black people are “people of color” and our indigenous or Native American people are “people of color” than the term itself is repetitive.

  1. Black & Indigenous people don’t have that much in common.

While the term BIPOC exists to express solidarity, it groups together a group of people whose histories could not be more different. The experience of Native Americans is like no other and is an extremely understudied aspect of American history. Native American history is often told from the perspective of the people who arrived on boats as opposed to from the perspective of people who were on the soil whereas black people were brought to this country through the transatlantic slave trade.

Both black people and Native Americans have experienced great oppression but their stories are also complicated by the fact that some Native Americans were also owners of enslaved Africans. Then of course, we can talk about the African American soldiers known as the Buffalo Soldiers who killed Native Americans in the 1800s. So what do these two groups really have in common? Queue reason #3 to stop using BIPOC—whiteness.

  1. Uniting around whiteness is not the way to go.

Black people and Native Americans have experienced severe forms of oppression at the hands of white colonizers and enslavers. Native Americans were also enslaved by colonizers. There are indeed countless examples of Native Americans and black people working towards unity, demonstrated in the 20th century by the fight for equality and civil rights and black & brown empowerment movements. The point here is that historically, most of the times that Native American and black solidarity has been demonstrated has been in response to white oppression. Is this reason enough to combine these groups in such a generic fashion? We cannot build movements based off of opposition to another group because real solidarity does not fully exist if it can only exist with a common enemy.

  1. Why do white people just get to be white?

I have seen so many terms used to describe nonwhite people throughout American history from Negro, colored, and Hispanic, to Indian, people of color, and LatinX. Now we have BIPOC. Throughout all of this, white people just still get to be called white. Not only is this annoying because, last time I checked, white is a color too, but also because the more terms we come up with, the more white people are viewed as being the original people and everyone else is colored into that white narrative of originality. Putting white people basically at the center of creation is not historically accurate. I have written more extensively about the broader problems the term “people of color” creates and why we should not use it so I will not revisit that here. I will just say that the more time we spend coming up with new terms to describe nonwhite groups, the more we actually strengthen the narrative of white Eurocentric dominance in America.

At the end of the day, I do not have the right to challenge how any one individual chooses to identify with a culture or identity. I am speaking to the challenges that exist on a collective level when we continually create new terms for people who ultimately do not have that much in common, as we have done with the term “people of color.” I argue for us to be intellectually energetic enough to treat each group with the respect they deserve in the same way we do white people. Both white people and Native Americans owned slaves but no one has come up with the term WIPOC to express solidarity. Let us tell the story of Native Americans, black people, and all cultural or racial groups with the individual respect they deserve. This is crucial in your commitment to create communities where everyone is celebrated and not tolerated. Let’s GO!

The Rule of 7: Testing Your Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

I have truly enjoyed engaging so many companies, schools, and individuals about pressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I have found that most people are serious about challenging themselves on seeing where their biases lie and doing something about it. One challenge that I have seen, however, is that too often, people with whom I interact ask me what books they need to read or what terminology they need to adopt in order to not make a mistake and be called out for being racist, homophobic, etc. While the concern is understandable, this is not the way to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion and definitely not a way to become antiracist. It’s more of a way to check off a box saying “I did this so I’m good.” I would like to propose a simple, but more in-depth measure of seeing how serious you are on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I propose The Rule of 7.

Rather than checking the box or reading an assigned book, The Rule of 7 is personal. Only you know the answers to these 7 questions and therefore only you know what you are supposed to do about it. The real questions is do you have the will to actually do something about it or are you going to stay comfortable and not rock the boat? You can come up with your own list of 7 questions or you can do it as a group of friends or even at your job. The goal is not come up with an easy list. This should be a list that challenges you to become better on this journey. The reason why The Rule of 7 can be powerful is because it speaks to what you’ve already done versus what you’re doing. The 7 questions could include:

  1. What do your 7 closest friends look like (or the 7 closest friends of your children)?
  2. Who are the authors of the last 7 books you read (or books bought for your children)?
  3. What do your 7 closest neighbors (in terms of proximity) look like?
  4. What did your last 7 teachers look like (or the current teachers of your children)?
  5. What does the cast of the last 7 shows and movies you’ve watched (or that your children watched) look like?
  6. What did your last 7 hires look like or what do the 7 closest members of your work team look like?
  7. What do the last 7 toys you bought for your kids look like?

I could go into more detail about each question but they are all self-explanatory. If, for example, you’re white and all the answers to all or most of your 7 is “white,” you have more work to do. If you are black and your answers are mostly “black,” you have work to do. I would also say that if you are a member of one group, say Latinx, and your responses to the most questions are mostly “white,” you also have some work to do. For those of you with children or students in your life, this is also important because you may be programming them in way that reinforces a narrative or superiority or inferiority in their minds in the same way you may have been programmed.

If this article is too vague for you, that is the point. The goal of this article is to challenge you to work on your own or with colleagues and friends to actively challenge your biases and do the work to diversify your experiences and practices. I can give you books, documentaries, glossaries, and TED talks for days. At the end of the day however, you have to do the work to challenge yourself on your thoughts and experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion when nobody is watching. Lastly, if you want to go to a deeper level, spend time exploring why your neighbors and teachers all look the same or why you do not work with anyone who does not look (or think) like you. That is an entirely different reading list for you. Are you ready? Let’s go!

The 10 Antiracist Commandments (lyrics)

I been in this land for years, they see me as an animal

Time to end these racist lies, just read a manual

A step by step booklet for you to get

Time we learned how to be anti-racist

Dr. Kendi laid out the blueprint of how to do it

You wanna be an antiracist this is how you pursue it

Said it ain’t just good enough to say what you ain’t

You gotta do the work, box that hate out the paint

Start by checking yourself why you got those fears

Look at who’s been teaching you those racist ideas

White hate black, black hate white, black hate black

When it comes to being racist we should all step back

And check it all from how we police clothing and behavior

To how our system’s based off the need for a white savior

From power and body to class and biology

The racist roots of society is our biography

But it ain’t gotta be just because it’s how it was

We can’t keep the status quo just because

With our future on the line I believe that it’s time

To look in the mirror start to change our design

Rule nombre uno:

Gotta let people know

The racist views you hold

And how you plan to let em go

#2: here’s a good next move

Get a good reading list that challenges your views

#3: Never trust nobody

Who says they ain’t racist when actions speak loudly

#4: Know you heard this before

“Some of my best friends are black” don’t say that no more

#5: you don’t want racism to stay alive

Learn how it all started then make sure that it dies

#6: post-racial rhetoric, forget it

Think voting for Obama stopped racism, forget it

#7: this rule is so underrated

Understand why our neighborhoods are still segregated

’cause money and race don’t mix

Like Trump havin’ real ethics

Find yourself impeached real quick

#8: Never keep no hate in you

Exorcise it all costs maybe lose some friends too

#9 shoulda been number one to me

Know from day one we been a racist society

#10: a strong word called “alignment”

Get with like-minded people is your next assignment

Follow these rules your racism starts to shake up

If not, maybe hundred more years until we wake up!

I’m Black Before I’m A “Person of Color” Or “Minority.” Companies, Schools, & TV MUST See Me.

In my work over the past few decades in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I have always done my best to make sure that the language I use is respectful of all of the communities with whom I work. Now I don’t just throw out words just to please people. I do my research and combine my knowledge with how people feel they want to be identified. For years, I have used the term “people of color” in my writings, presentations, and speeches, but over the past year, I have grown uncomfortable with the term primarily because my experience as a black person in America are getting lost in that expression. Add the word “minority” to the conversation (a term I never use) and one can hopefully see how the black experience is being forgotten for the sake of overall diversity and inclusion.

Across multiple industries, we see “people of color” and “minorities” being used in literature. Companies often speak of how their numbers have increased in terms of “minority” representation but the numbers rarely match for African Americans and black people overall. For example, when some companies state that they have increased hiring of “minorities”, that could mean anyone from white women to Asian-born Indians and everyone in between. This was indeed the case with affirmative action, where research has shown that the majority of people who benefitted from it are actually white women. To be clear, I believe that all traditionally underrepresented groups in company spaces should have opportunities to have their numbers increased. What happens unfortunately too often is that after those numbers are met, there is no longer a need to reach out to the black community.

Relating back to “people of color,” all challenges affecting what I would call non-white people are not the same. For example, the many cases of police shootings of unarmed people is specifically an issue facing the black community. The preschool to prison pipeline is primarily a problem affecting black students. When comedian Shane Gillis was hired then fired from Saturday Night Live over his racist comments towards Asians, I read one tweet by an Asian activist who wrote that the term “chink is like the n-word for people of color.” History lesson: “people of color” are not called the “nigga” or “nigger.” BLACK PEOPLE are.

So today, when I hear “people of color,” it sounds too universal and I feel lost in it. I don’t besmirch people for using it, I just know how it makes me feel. I am a black person before I’m a person of color. Furthermore, using that term actually puts white people at the center, like a white piece of paper and then everyone else is colored in. Historically, white people were not the first to walk this earth. Black people were and so this also may subtly reinforce a white ethnocentric, even a white supremacist idea.

At the end of the day, if we are going to be serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have to be mindful to make sure we are being inclusive of all groups and their experiences. Truth be told, some companies get away with touting an increase in their black representation by hiring non-African American black people such as people from the Caribbean, the African continent, Europe, and elsewhere. This is also a discussion happening in our colleges and universities and even in Hollywood, as we have seen with the release of the movie Harriet. Personally, I am fine with an overall increase in black representation but if the intention is that African Americans come with too much baggage to employ, the real issue may be the stereotypes that employers have about African Americans that need to be challenged. Challenging our stereotypes and overall actions starts with companies doing a deep dive into their statistics and getting to root of what is behind the hiring process and I truly enjoy working with companies who are doing just that. If your company isn’t there, it’s time to get to work! Let’s go!