The language we use to discuss race is constantly evolving. Circumstances of time and history as well as current cultural zeitgeist all play a factor.
While there are many races, when speaking of race relations and issues in the United States there is a predominate focus on the Black experience.
Here are some terms to know:
People or Person of Color (POC)
An all-encompassing term typically meant to include: Asian, Black, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, multi-racial, Hispanic/Latinx and other non-white populations.
For some, this phrasing sets white as the default, saying: “There are white people and there are other people.” And lacks the nuance that would otherwise acknowledge the vastly different ways, intensities and rates that these individual populations experience racism.
People or person of color should not be used interchangeably when referring to or discussing a specific race of people. The AP Stylebook does recognize the phrase people or person of color but does not approve the use of the abbreviated POC, although this phrasing is often used colloquially.
Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)
The term has gained traction in recent months and, with its increase in popularity, created confusion among those not familiar with the acronym.
The phrase expands upon the term people or person of color to place further emphasis on Black and Indigenous populations and the unique experiences, obstacles and intolerance these individuals face in the United States specifically.
While the AP Stylebook and other language authorities have not ruled on the use and appropriate application of the term, it continues to be used in the vernacular across social media. Some newsrooms also have begun to incorporate the term, informally, into their publications.
Long considered to be the politically correct term for Black individuals, the phrase has fallen out of vogue for many reasons.
One being, not all Black people are African American. Additionally, many feel a disconnect from the designation as African American as they cannot trace their roots directly back to Africa.
The AP Stylebook recognizes the use of the phrase when referring to “an American Black person of African descent.” It also is advised that African American and Black may not be interchangeable in all situations.
For example, Black people of Caribbean descent often prefer Caribbean American. Similarly, those who can connect their heritage directly to a specific African country may prefer to be referred to with increased specificity (i.e. Senegalese American, Nigerian American, etc.).
Throughout history, Black people in the United States have carried a variety of monikers. Although many non-Black individuals may feel the need to dance around the term for fear of coming across as “racist,” for many in the Black community being Black and being referred to as Black is not only a truthful statement but a point of celebration and pride.
Acknowledging this, simply put: if you mean Black, say Black.
Many will see through the use of euphemisms or code words such as minority, diverse, ethnic, exotic, urban, etc. when used to mean Black. In fact, the AP Stylebook directly discourages the use of minority when referring to an individual.
Remember, Black is an adjective (Black community; Black man; Black women; Black-owned, etc.) and it is frowned upon to use it as a singular noun.
Additionally, the AP Stylebook recently updated to capitalize the usage of Black as an adjective when referring to situations or circumstances discussing race, ethnicity or culture.
It would be overly simplistic to say there is one “right” term to use universally, when, in reality, there are multiple terms of various origins that can be correctly used in an array of contexts.
And this is certainly not an exhaustive list. For example, this does not even begin to broach the topic of biracial and multiracial identities and the many complexities this brings. Nor does it begin to unpack the unique experiences and injustices faced by non-black people of color. Unfortunately, no one singular article, book, video or documentary is capable of doing this or serving this purpose.
However, the general consensus remains when it comes to referencing race: know what you mean, say what you mean and mean what you say.