BIPOC and what it must be like for Black Americans and indigenous people

Listening to solid news coverage about the struggles of immigrants and refugees, I was struck today about how disheartening, depressing, and even traumatizing it might be for Black people (and, now that I’ve been thinking about it, for indigenous people in the US) to have excellent passionate and committed activism and news coverage about the current issues facing immigrants and refugees. Even if Black and/or indigenous people fully support the rights and causes of immigrants and refugees, I can’t help but wonder (and I suspect google would bear this out) if Black and indigenous people might feel once again as if they don’t count or are invisible to the “allies.”

What I mean is this: Black people in America (and indigenous people here) have been terrorized and brutalized for hundreds of years, but they’ve barely made the news. Or, if the issues they face make the news it’s either covered from a white supremacist perspective or it only flashes in and out of the public eye.

Later this morning I saw on twitter an acronym I didn’t recognize: “BIPOC.” Instead of asking the tweeting person what it meant (they are an indigenous rights activist in Canada, I think? and I’m sure are bombarded by white people asking them to explain things) I googled it. It means “Black, indigenous, and people of color.” From what I’ve read, it’s used to help center discussions and work related to racism on people who tend to be marginalized when the term POC is used. For example, POC can refer to anyone who has Black or brown skin (or who identifies as a person of color). But, in general, Black Americans have enormously different histories than do those people who have come here voluntarily.

These days, as I’m hearing about the important good work being done for our neighbors who don’t have documentation stating they are legally allowed to live here, every news story I hear or read I think about how many stories about Black people being arrested and jailed for jaywalking or being systematically shut out of every single institution in the country. At this point, I’m not doing much more than thinking about it, but as I was noticing it, I felt like I wanted to share it.

As always, these notes are quickly written and are by their nature not inclusive of all aspects of these complicated issues. But, I’d rather say something than nothing at all when I’m in a place where it’s appropriate for me to speak/write. (For example, writing on my own blog is an appropriate place for me to take up space.)

11 thoughts on “BIPOC and what it must be like for Black Americans and indigenous people

  1. Thank you for clarifying BIPOC. I would not say POC is just defined as Black or brown (or self identified)… I find it troubling that East Asian people get included as POC when our support is needed but excluded when groups advocate for POC interests. I am of course aware of East Asian, White adjacent economic priviliages, but should point out that some Latinos also share the same privileges.

    Asians continue to be marginalized from culture and politics, by conservatives and liberals, no less. Although the majority of Asian Americans currently vote Democrat and continue to support affirmative action (even if it hurts E Asian interests), I think progressives are at a risk of losing the Asian bloc, with the new surge of Asian immigration (now the fastest growing immigrant group). Here Asian American progressive activists have to run center and do what we can to activate our familiar immigrant communities to liberal causes that barely if ever aknowledge Asian interests. It may very well be an impossible task. And if that day comes when the next generation of Asian Americans turns against progressive issues, I’d sincerely blame my White, Black, and brown activist colleagues for being such terrible allies.

    • I’m so sorry your community is used/overlooked in this way. There was a recent episode of This Is Us that called out this exact thing. (Randall was running for a local office in Philadelphia and decided to tap into the Korean voting base…and someone noticed and pointed out that he didn’t care about them until he wanted their votes.)

  2. Agree with you and this is an important conversation, but I wanted to flag that some Black folks are immigrants too (not mutually exclusive). At least in Canada, many identify very much with the Caribbean or Africa, because our history of slavery is a little different. Also, immigrants do not necessarily voluntarily come here – some are refugees and had to come due to persecution in their home countries, and others may have come as immigrants but not always voluntary (e.g. economic conditions forced them to leave, etc.). What I am writing here does not discount your points though! Just wanted to point out important nuances.

  3. I would also like to point out that many “immigrants” ARE indigenous. It is a colonized mindset to consider all people from Mexico and below as Hispanic or Latino when so many of us are indigenous. Prior to colonization there were entire road systems spanning the entire Americas, and indigenous people used those roads to travel all over. And similarly to indigenous people of what is now USA and Canada indigenous people below the souther border also faced mass genocide, and are STILL battling femicide, genocide, lenguicide and so much more. And to say that those migrating from Central America are doing so by “choice” is ignorant. People are being forced out of their homelands, away from their cultures, ect because of the direct harm of the USA. MANY indigenous communities recognize ALL indigenous peoples, and do not exclude indigenous Americans outside of the USA. This narrative also excludes the illegal mass deportations of Natives during the Great Depression when hundreds of thousands of Natives born on US soil were forced into what is now Mexico. I am all for recognizing the differences of various communities privileges and so forth, but BIPOC DOES include indigenous peoples who were not born on what is now the USA. So much more could be said but there a start.

    • Did it seem like I was saying something different than that? I was talking about how the USA was formed and how people living here (on this colonized land) have been treated. Are you correcting me (did I say something incorrect)? Or are you just adding a nuance to the topic?

    • Chi Chi: Not sure if you will see this, but I found this post through Ravelry. I had not thought about what you have brought up, about indigenous(ness) being completely separate from citizenship. They are two completely different realms, and we have been confusing and conflating them. It really puts things into perspective. Thank you for taking the time and energy to explain this.

  4. I really hate the term “black” America, just as much as I hate “African-American.” Both of the term’s, B-Americans, “Black” people, or even “African”-American, are terms placed over us; we had to decision making with these labels!

    Some of us are Indigenous, though the system won’t allow us to self-identify as such. We are brown-skinned, not black! Though many have become attached to these descriptions; black is a color, not a people! If anything, I’d prefer the label brown American or just plain old American. No one in my family history is traced to Africa; no file on record found to substantiate the claim; be it true or not, that my family is African.

    As Morgan Freedman once said, “I’m an American, I’m not African-American,” this is my sentiment to these and other description.

  5. my family came here voluntarily generations ago, yet because of their japanese ancestry were put in concentration camps during world war 2. super humiliating and scary, not to mention obviously blatantly racist. the shame has trickled down through our family into the current generations. (which aren’t that many yet since, by the way, it really was not that long ago- my mom’s 2 older sisters were in the camps as children!) just one more nuance to point out. thank you for this conversation and your allyship.

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