(and White People, Too)
I’ve already written a couple of essays now regarding the acronyms POC and BIPOC, their relationships to other terms such as inclusion, inclusivity and diversity, and why I believe each of these terms actually tend to benefit the ideology of white supremacism and Racism rather than not. There is so much in what we accept and use as terms and phrases that are simply not considered in the regular course of our lives because there are so many other things we must consider; much of which is necessary to live, so we certainly do not take the time to conceive of the ways white supremacism operates through seemingly benign terms and phrases. To do so can easily brand you as someone who is always making everything about Race.
Well, I am one of those who knows that’s exactly the case, because it’s the truth. Everything in this country is foremost about Race – in the form of the value applied and assigned to human beings, and in particular, the value associated with the colors black and white and their assignment to the pigments of human bodies. For an interesting example of why everything is about Race, I created an informal poll which asked whether anyone knew the origin of the Department of Justice and as of this writing, 89% never knew, only 4% learned about it in school and 7% claimed they knew from other sources. Now, why would anyone suppose such a large number of people never knew how or why or even when the Department of Justice of the United States was created? Here’s why: because even the creation of the Department of Justice was rooted in white supremacism, and revisionist history was necessary for the benefit of conditioning people into believing otherwise. The fact is, the desire of some to change the course for a more equitable, equal and just nation for, are you ready? Black people – specifically the Black descendants of the Enslavement, was the primary reason for its creation (See The Department of Justice From Deep in the Rabbit Hole Looking Up).
Yes, even something so fundamental, so essential to what we rely on as the caretaker of Democracy itself wasn’t simply something that happened because the people in power thought it was a good idea as part of the construction of the “rule of law.” But this essay is not about the Department of Justice, nor is it about diversity and inclusion, although the focus definitely does have a hand in the DI acronym. What brings me to my computer after months of avoiding it was a post on my newest and favorite social media platform, MIndly.Social, where a fellow “Fedi” posted about the terms POC and BIPOC as uniters.
As well-meaning and progressive as the commentary was, it caused a twitch in my writer soul, one of those inspirations that sets off my mantra:
I don’t want to change your mind; I want to open it so you can change it for yourself.
You see, ever since the overthrow of Reconstruction, the effort to maintain the ideology of superiority of whiteness has been steadfast and consistent through laws, regulations, and often brute force. These are efforts we see in real time today. What we don’t see are how things as simple as everyday words and phrases are allowed into and out of the lexicon, amplified or vulgarized, as any situation may dictate. We may debate which are dog whistles, euphemisms, or have any relevance whatsoever to Race, and the debates are on purpose. That is because in this life, whiteness culture is a series of paradoxes not meant to be fully understood, but fiercely debated.
One might ask, how do I free myself from this entanglement of thought? How do I begin to understand its reality within what I call the Paradoxical Framework of Simultaneous Reality and Fantasy, to recognize the purpose of the ideology? To begin the process of shifting out of the grasp of the ideology of White Supremacism, you must first understand supremacism itself, which has origins in Religion -- the higher being, or the supreme deity, simultaneously with Patriarchal Sexual Supremacism, where male is superior to female, and Monarchal/Aristocratic Economic class Supremacism, in the form of royalty over peasant; low, middle, upper, class. It would be remiss of me to dismiss Meritocratic Supremacism, where the superiority of one over another lies within a predefined value through an achievement of some kind.
It should be no secret by now that when the colonies in America were formed, rather than monarchal casting, a form of European Aristocratic Economic Supremacism was designed using a similar economic class caste structure, and maintaining the Patriarchy. In the beginning, this economic caste structure and separation by class was inclusive for all, including the Enslaved, as in equal opportunity oppression. Indeed, the Enslaved were part of the Lower Class along with poor white and indentured people among others. History teaches us that after Bacon’s Rebellion, the Gentry, or the highest class of legislators and other wealthy landowners devised an ideology of White Supremacism, placing the Enslaved into a class all their own and assigning to them the already fixed value associated with the color black, and to themselves, the values associated with the color white, both values already embracing intrinsic religious belief in evil and good.
Because of the history of colonial America and its various forms of supremacism already in place, with the advent of White Supremacism, efforts to ensure inequality, inequity, and injustice were consistently applied to everything, even today, and including general words and phrases used every day that you may believe live outside of any notion of supremacism and Racism.
“Black Lives Matter,” was and is a statement of fact, something one would think is indisputable. Yet, think again. Almost immediately, the phrase was obscured. Imagine turning a statement of fact such as whether a Black life mattered into a debatable discussion? How about having to create clarification to a statement which should already be incontrovertible; into an attempt to be considered more palatable, such as relegation to the addition of the word, “too,” as justification or validation, as though Black lives simply mattering as a statement by itself was simply not enough. Adding insult to an already injurious conclusion that Black lives had to be further scrutinized as an afterthought using the word, too, Black lives mattering became its own acronym, complete with associations as a terror group, a criminal organization that somehow suggested white lives no longer mattered if Black ones did, when all it was meant to do was attempt to remain its own statement of fact. Still, the phrase couldn’t benefit the furtherance and sustenance of white supremacism in its form as a statement of fact as originally written, read or spoken, a phrase at once as simple as it was profound, unless it was able to be massaged into submission; turned into a hotly contested debate. You must begin to understand that anything, and I mean ANYTHING benefitting the furtherance and sustaining of the ideology of white supremacy is always allowed to prevail, even if only for tacit support or maintenance. Otherwise, it is modified into distraction through debate while the powers quietly reap what they consider value, whether monetarily or culturally or both, for their cause.
Now let’s look at POC and BIPOC and its acceptance and popularity as the new acronym for identifying everyone with at least a modicum of melanin in their skin whether they can honestly connect as descendants of enslaved Africans in America or not. In discussions of the term, people of color, we must also consider the benefits to white supremacism being derived by its continued use today, and to do that, we must first reimagine the term, "colored people" used liberally [pun intended] in the 20th century. Recall back in the 20th century, no other group of people, neither through Ethnicity, Race, nor Nationality, identified or wished to be identified by the term, "colored." Nobody. Colored people was exclusive to Black people who were the Negroes, descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to the colonies almost 500 years ago, and was considered the "gentler" version of identification than Negro or its derivative pejorative spoken generally as the letter “N” today. When these descendants became Black and proud in the late 60s and upwards into the 70s, the term, colored people quietly drifted away, was eventually considered derogative, and was used only pejoratively.
People tend to consider the term, “People of Color” as originating from the sixties and Dr. King specifically, because he used “citizens of color” in one of his speeches. Its origin, however, stems back to approximately 1796. Warren Milteer, Jr, History professor at George Washington University underscored this fact in an article for AAIHS’s Black Perspectives:
The truth is that English-speaking people in the United States have used “people of color” as a category since at least the 1700s. French-speakers in Louisiana also used the French translation of this term, “gens de couleur.” The concept also existed outside of the United States in other parts of the English-speaking world and French colonies, such as Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti) and Ille of France (modern-day Mauritius).
Now, popularized once again in the 21st century through the simple reorganization of the words and the addition of the preposition "of" before "people," harkening from "Colored People” of the 60s, the term appears to be enough to rally behind, believing it fosters unity among anyone willing to be considered nonwhite as well as those of us who can’t or don’t wish to hide that fact. This begs the questions:
Does the addition of the preposition of make it okay to be colored for any nonwhite person, even those whose ancestors refused to be considered colored before the 20th century? In essence, People of Color is enough in the 21st century when Colored People wasn’t in the 20th?
Apparently so. diver
Does the reordering of the phrase and the of really connote inclusivity among anyone other than nonwhite people when the goal is supposed to be for inclusivity of all, including those who are white? Is that all it really took to create diversity and inclusion?
Again, apparently so, but not in the way you are conditioned to think. It allows for the continued categorization of nonwhite people, more grouping together, or inclusion, of even more melanated bodies to the exclusion of, or for diversity with "colorless" white bodies as a comparison. It's obviously the 21st century version of "everybody who ISN’T white," and allows for continued individuality of and segregation within the white space. And why? Because the pejorative nature of colored and people alone during the 60s couldn’t benefit the furtherance and sustenance of white supremacism in its form where only Black descendants of the Enslaved fit neatly before the 21st century. After all, the goal is to become inclusive, right? Well, that was until the advent of BIPOC which became necessary because the diversity in the nonwhite pot was getting too full. And of course, both acronyms are right up there with Black Lives Matter, too, competing for their status as the hottest debates since Race itself.
It is essential to understand how everyday words and phrases we use have real time racialized ramifications within white supremacism without most even knowing and to be willing to dissect them critically to discern whether they are in place to help or hurt the cause of equality, equity, opportunity and justice.
 Black Perspectives: The Lexicon Origins of People of Color, by Warren Miltieer, Jr.