Dear White People: About “People of Color” (POC)
this is post is the blog version of a vlog that i recently posted to my YouTube channel. the content is essentially the same, but feel free to check out both.
as you can probably tell by the title, this is going to be a rant. that said, i hope that something can be learned from it.
why have i titled this “Dear White People”?
- even if white people aren’t solely guilty of what i’m about to talk about, i’m calling out white people specifically because i see white people of various countries doing this far more than anyone else.
- if you yourself are white and you consider yourself to be an ally to people of color, this post was written specifically for you.
people’s misuse of the term “POC” or “people/person of color” and the various misconceptions that exist about how and when to use this term has bothered me for a long time. i see a lot of (white) people blanketly using this term to refer to any and everyone who who isn’t white.
you see, the problem with that is that the world consists of more than just white people and people of color.
i often see people talking about things like “POC culture”– often in the singular, sometimes in the plural, but let’s stop right there for a second. first of all, there is no such thing as “POC culture” (singular). similarly, there is no “POC community” (singular). i often see people referring to “the POC community” or talking about appropriating from “POC culture”, etc etc.
let’s get something straight. people of color are hella diverse. we’re talking about people who have roots from all over the damn world. the ONLY thing that we all have in common is that we’re not white but we live in countries that are built on whiteness, where being white is considered the default and where institutions are in place that fuck us over.
people of color be they black, Japanese , Cuban, Indian, Kenyan, Mexican, etc etc do not gather together at your local city hall to have “community” meetings. all racial and ethnic minorities build their own communities and there isn’t necessarily any connection between them beyond being POC.
thus, generally speaking, there is no POC community (singular). there is no POC culture (singular). there are, however, POC communities and POC cultures. if you’re going to talk about people of color in general, use plurals. this isn’t me being a “grammar nazi”, this is you being correct and doing right by the people you’re referring to.
also, if you have a specific group of people, a specific culture or a specific identity (or intersection of identities) in mind, then just say that. be specific. do NOT use the term POC when talking about a specific group of POC. no matter how much of an ally you may consider yourself to be, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by overgeneralizing.
too often i see people, even organizations and groups, use the term POC when what/who they’re really talking about or when the statistics that they’re giving is specifically about black people. if you’re talking about black people, or any other specific group of POC, just say that. be as specific as you can. say black Americans when talking about black Americans, say African Americans when talking about African Americans (hint: not all black Americans are African American), etc etc.
if you are speaking generally, make sure that what you are saying is actually inclusive and representative of the diverse group of people that you are talking about. please stop treating people of color as if they are a homogenous group because we are not. we all have very unique circumstances, lived experiences, etc and oversimplifying things ignores that.
a second thing that really bothers me is that i’ve seen people talking about “POC cultures”– and they do say it in the plural, so good job there– but sometimes when they say “POC cultures” they’re actually referring to cultures from other countries. often from countries whose cultures are markedly different from their own, such as countries in Asia, Africa or South America.
when this happens, the person in question is often talking about a specific country’s culture (eg. Japanese culture in Japan) and they refer to that country’s culture as a “POC culture”.
hell, i’ve seen people referring to entire countries as “POC countries”………
what the fuck???
no, seriously. this is by no means a one-off incident, but i recently came across a blog post about white guys living in “POC countries”. in the post in question, they were specifically referring to white guys living in South Korea.
for some reason white people (but admittedly not just white people) don’t seem to get how fucked up it is to refer to other countries as “POC countries”. how utterly ridiculous and offensive that is.
please, please, please fly over here to Japan and talk to a Japanese person about being a person of color. ask them what it’s like being a person of color. please do jump on a plane and fly over here so that you can see their reaction in person. after you explain what POC even means, they will then look at you like “wtf are you even talking about you silly American??” or whatever you are.
after that, please fly on over to Ghana and then hop over to Peru to talk to a Peruvian. ask them what it’s like being a person of color. i guarantee you that the reaction will be the same: “what the hell are you even talking about???”
you see, the world is more than just white people and then everyone else that you can conveniently lump together into this huge indiscriminate group of “non-white people”, ie. “people of color”.
no, you see Japanese people are Japanese. Ghanians are Ghanian. Peruvians are Peruvian. and even within those national/ethnic groups there is even more diversity, none of which you get to gloss over with “not-white” “people of color”.
“POC” is a term straight out of colonialism, specifically US colonial history, and it cannot be used outside of the context of colonialism. it specifically refers to the experiences of people who are not white living in countries built on whiteness. it is not a description of the world outside of your country. other countries do not revolve or exist around your country’s history with colonialism and racialization.
as such, a Japanese American, for example, would probably self-identify as a person of color while a Japanese person living in Japan who has no connection to America, Canada, the UK etc will not know what the hell you are even talking about, let alone actually identify as a person of color.
so please, by all means feel free to use the terms POC, POC cultures, POC communities when appropriate to what you’re talking about. please put some thought into what and who it is that you’re actually talking about.
are you really talking about all people of color in general?
are you talking about a specific culture or community?
are you talking about POC in a specific country?
are you even really talking about POC at all?
please stop and ask yourself these questions. you’ll be doing us all a favor.