POC, WOC, BIPOC: What do these acronyms stand for?

In a time of racial justice, as people of all backgrounds come together, the acronym 'POC' is as relevant as ever.

POC, WOC, BIPOC: What do these acronyms stand for?
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POC, WOC, BIPOC: What do these acronyms stand for?

After the wrongful murder of George Floyd, POC started rallying together. In most discourse about the Black Lives Matter movement, the term 'POC' is bound to pop up at some point or another, especially as other racial groups stand in solidarity with black communities. Even though this solidarity is nothing new—racial groups have long stood together in the fight against white supremacy—the terminology might seem fresh to many.

So, what does POC mean? Who falls under the 'POC' label?

POC is an acronym that stands for 'person of color' and is an umbrella term that refers to all people of color, which includes anyone that isn’t white. The term is often used to describe POC’s shared experiences of systemic racism. There are variants of the acronym, such as 'WOC' (women of color) and 'BIPOC' (Black, Indigenous people of color), that help classify POC into smaller groups with more unique lived experiences.

Though the phrase was created by, and for, African Americans, the word has evolved into a modern collective identity. The acronym has become deeply politicized, which has helped mobilize non-white people in the fight against white supremacy, but it can also feel far too general for many people who feel like their unique racial challenges are being excluded in the conversation.

Etymology of POC

The term 'people of color' has been used since 1796, when it was initially used to describe light-skinned mixed people. However, it was until the late 20th century when the word was reintroduced and reclaimed by activists. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. used the phrase 'citizens of color,' but the term was more strongly enforced in the late 1970s. Activists began using it to counter the patronizing tone of the words 'non-white' and 'minority,' and by the late 1980s, it was being used everywhere. Many activists felt it necessary to use in order to move the conversation of racism beyond the 'black-white dichotomy.'

Where are we now?

The term has only gained more popularity as the years go by, especially with the rise of anti-racism movements worldwide. While it originated in the United States, it began getting adopted in other English-speaking countries, like Canada, Australia, Ireland, and South Africa.

Nowadays, however, the term POC is being criticized as often as it’s being used. Many people find that the term itself can be very othering since it puts all of these very different racial groups into one large category. This feeling of being misrepresented has led to the development of more specific acronyms, like BIPOC which first appeared in 2013.

Key figures

While the direct origination of the term is unknown, we do know that the term 'POC' as it’s known today only exists because of racial justice groups. These groups have helped propel the acronym forward, allowing it to become widespread in political settings. Many of these groups were inspired by Franz Fanon, a radical theorist, and based their philosophies on his work.

In 1977, a group of black women activists coined the phrase 'women of color' and debuted it at the National Women’s Conference.

How can I support POC as a white person?

1. Listen to POC. Don’t talk over POC. As they share their experiences, listen with an open and nonjudgemental mind.

2. Support POC. Whether you support a POC-owned business or provide mutual aid to a POC, be sure to put the work in. Give POC the opportunities they’re always passed up for. Uplift their voices and work however you can.

3. Be anti-racist. Disapproving of racism isn’t enough. If you truly want to support POC, you must be anti-racist in everything you do. Call out microaggressions, even when POC aren’t around. Hold your friends and family accountable for the problematic things they do.

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