When I worked at a publishing house, a friend invited me to join the POCs in Publishing network. “But…shouldn’t that be reserved for real POCs?” I asked her, perplexed. I was unclear whether biracial people could be included under the term “person of color,” and I still approach this label with extreme caution.
As conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion continue to evolve, it is becoming clear that language created with the best of intentions can morph into something confusing, contradictory, and even problematic. How do we thoughtfully navigate the ever-changing terms to include the ways in which people would like to be identified?
Let’s start with the basics.
POC: POC is an acronym for People of Color in the context of the United States, with limited use in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, among other countries. The term includes – but is not limited to – members of the following communities that reside in the aforementioned countries: Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islander, Asian (including Western, Eastern, and Southern Asia), Arab, and multiracial communities.
BIPOC: BIPOC is an evolution of the term POC, and refers to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the context of the United States. It consciously separates Black and Indigenous from the more general term of People of Color to acknowledge the unique struggles that Black and Indigenous people have experienced in the United States.
BAME: BAME or BME refers to Black, Asian, minority ethnic in the context of the United Kingdom. While this term acknowledges the unique experiences of Black and Asian communities in colonialist and post-colonialist Britain, this term places all “other” groups of people in the ethnic minority.
PGM: PGM, or People of the Global Majority, is an emerging term within discussions surrounding race that is arguably the most universally inclusive. Unlike the terms “minority” or “marginalized,” the term People of the Global Majority offers Black, Brown, and Indigenous people – who are, in fact, numerically in the majority all over the world – an empowering term that encompasses a global solidarity against racial injustice.
Why Language Around Racial Identity Matters
Terms like BIPOC and BAME have value when it makes people feel seen and brings people closer together. These umbrella terms become problematic when they come at the price of nuance and ignore specific experiences. As much as our human brains love categorization, broad classifications of people are never truly accurate for everyone.
In the United States, Canada, and Australia (to name a few examples), Indigenous people have and will continue to face uniquely unjust circumstances at the same time that immigrants to these same countries face different unique and unjust circumstances. Similarly, the legacy of slavery in various countries means that it would be disrespectful to group the Black experience with another ethnic group that may have immigrated to a Western country by choice. For this reason, we must be careful not to use a general term such as POC if we are referring only to a specific group of people, such as Black or Indigenous people.
So why do we adopt these terms? For some, these identifiers offer spaces of belonging, safety, and – perhaps most crucially – conversations that are not directed to an external gaze. As the poet Caroline Randall Williams said recently in a virtual discussion hosted by Duke University, “[BIPOC] were thriving and living before we were being talked about. We don’t need to be educated about the fact that we were always here.”
I did end up joining POCs in Publishing and felt an immense sense of community, understanding, and shared sense of priorities. I think a large reason for this group’s success – and others in various industries around the world – is that the people involved are bound by ideas larger than racial or ethnic identity. Communities can and should offer a space for people to thrive uninterrupted, to take comfort in the aspects we have in common, and to exchange ideas about how to improve the world around us.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Language constantly shifts and evolves, especially as our perception of the people around us continue to shift and evolve. It’s always best to be clear and specific about what you are talking about. If you are in conversation with a BIPOC or BAME person, ask them how they would like to identify. Perhaps preface with, “How would you like to be identified? This is the term I’ve heard being used.”
Let’s not forget why we are all joining this conversation in the first place: because we believe that the inclusion of different people benefits everyone. Adapting to terms of identity – no matter how often they change – is one way to show your commitment to inclusion.
Learn more about inclusion with our award-winning Global Inclusion Suite.