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  • Writer's pictureAparna Singhal

What's the right term: POC, BIPOC, PGM?

As I reflect on how I identify myself, it is clear in my heart and mind that I identify as South Asian born on Turtle Island. Truthfully, that is straightforward for me. Where I get stuck lately is in the acronyms and labels that are used when talking about groups of people. I find myself wondering where I best see myself represented. Which acronym is inclusive to me while also being appropriate for others – POC, BIPOC, PGM?

There are so many acronyms. Is there a right one to use and how is that determined?

POC stands for “people of colour” and is an umbrella term that generally and collectively refers to all people of colour, except anyone who is white. The term includes but is not limited to Black, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Latinx, and multi-racial communities. However, this term also centers whiteness and perpetuates the notion that white people are not racialized.

BIPOC evolved from POC and refers to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. While this terms still centers whiteness as a default racial category that is supposedly without race, I prefer this acronym over POC as I know that it is absolutely necessary to separate and acknowledge the unique experiences of Black and Indigenous folks. Using the term “people of colour” has led to perpetuating the notion that Black and Indigenous people have the same struggles and same stories as all non-white people. While the BIPOC acronym rightfully acknowledges the unique struggles of Black and Indigenous peoples, it elides the unique oppressions experienced by the numerous groups still encompassed under the POC portion of this acronym. This idea that all POC are a monolith is not only problematic, it is dangerous. Additionally, Black and Indigenous communities are also not uniform in their composition. There are multitudinous breakdowns within each of these communities based on factors like nationhood, language, cultural traditions, geographical location, migration histories, and so on.

Similarly, the experiences of Latinx people, Asian people, Middle Eastern people, and so many more are not all the same. Not only are their cultural identities unique, but their histories and experiences with racial oppression are different. While advocating against white supremacy, all groups of people must examine their own perceptions, biases, actions, and inactions as they relate anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and racially oppressive ideologies like shadeism that can be at play within one's own community.

Recently, I have started to embrace the acronym PGM – People of the Global Majority. While I have heard this in recent discourse, it is Dr. Ann Lopez, a professor of educational leadership and policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, who shared with me why this term feels more inclusive and appropriate for her. She values how the term decenters whiteness as it acknowledges the fact that numerically Black, Brown, and Indigenous people form a collective majority in the world. As such, this is an empowering term that promotes global solidarity against racial injustice.

Even with the empowering rationale for using People of the Global Majority, I am still left wondering when to use which term to talk about racialized communities and people and why I prefer some terms over others.

Acronyms are used in so many domains and clearly have purpose and need. They prove useful on social media and in other situations where one wants to communicate about topics like anti-racism that are of shared concern or interest to people with a variety of ethno-racial backgrounds. It is critical when discussing issues pertaining to specific groups of people that we should be as specific as possible about a person or group’s identity.

As we all think about which terms are “right” to use in a particular time and context, it is wise to recognize and accept that terminology changes over time. We should think critically about who is guiding these conversations about terminology, whose perspectives are being honoured and reflected, and whose voices are being amplified. Being reflective about the language we use, attentive to the evolving conversations that emerge about when and why a new or revised term is preferable, and adapting our own usages in response is part of the work of supporting social transformation.

Identities are complex, and one person’s experience is not the same as another’s simply because of the colour of their skin. Talking Together for Change uses the term BIPOC as part of the name of one of our affinity groups, but we know that the BIPOC term doesn’t always sit right or fit perfectly for everyone who joins this group.

We use BIPOC as a term for this group collectively because it is easily recognizable, and it starts to point to the unique experiences of different communities of colour. Sometimes, we also use the term People of the Global Majority (PGM), although it is less familiar, because it has an empowering sentiment, it reframes discussions about race, and it reflects the evolving dialogue around terminology.

In our BIPOC affinity group, we ask educators who participate to self-identify as African, Asian, Asian Pacific-Islander, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Middle Eastern, multiracial, and/or South Asian because our goal is to provide a space where people can examine the uniqueness of their experiences. Facilitators of this group have different racial backgrounds and understand the complexities of identity and racial injustices. We work towards creating a diverse community who can support one another and hold each other accountable in order to stand in solidarity for and with each other.

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