In light of the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others have forced communities around the world to confront systemic racism. As a Black, American woman—albeit a multi-racial and lighter-skinned Black woman—I’ve felt called to use my privilege and my platform to speak out how I can, with what I know.
One of the questions I’ve been asked the most often is what terminology non-Black allies should use. Is Black an offensive term? Is African American accurate for all Black Americans? What is BAME and where did the term pop up from?
Table of Contents
Black (with a capital B) is an umbrella term for anyone of African descent, regardless of nationality. Black is appropriate to use when referencing the general Black experience in the United States.
In the past, there seemed to have been a movement to use the term African-American as it was seen as more “PC”. However, not all Black people in the United States are African-American!
Is Black a negative word? NO.
I’ve received private commentary from white people saying that in their home towns and growing up they felt that calling someone Black had a negative connotation. However, by talking to them they eventually agreed that it was likely the discomfort in addressing race at all, and often the inflection with which racist people would call Black people Black which was the issue, and not the word itself.
Say it loud: I’m Black, and I’m proud.
POC is an acronym for People of Color, is for anyone visibly non-White (Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, etc.) POC essentially means non-white. White people walk through the world with a set of privileges and treatment based on their whiteness and can be directly contrasted with non-white people.
That’s not to say white people don’t have struggles, grief, hardship, or pain, but they do not suffer from systematic repression because of the color of their skin as non-white—or POC—do. That’s it!
BIPOC stands for Black/Indigenous/People of Color. This term has gained recent popularity as talks about race and individual racial experiences develop.
BIPOC is rising in popularity because it is more nuanced than POC toward the unique history and experiences that Black and Indigenous people face in the United States. Black people suffer unnecessarily because the color of our skin is not valued in a white-centric society. Indigenous people are continually erased, stolen from, and neglected American society.
While each individual race has their own struggles and none overshadows another, in the United States I believe it to be important to single out the Indigenous and Black experiences.
Hence why I personally like using BIPOC over POC when generally referring to non-white people.
This term often describes Black Americans who have a family history that directly links to African enslaved people who were brought to the United States between the 17th and 19th centuries.
Because of this, it’s rare that know their historical ethnic and cultural roots because they were systematically and generational removed. Over the centuries these races, cultures, and traditions were blended and created something else completely—this is the African American identity.
ADOS (American Descendant of Slavery)
Another term that I’ve just heard of recently. Here is the official definition by the originators of the term: ADOS—which stands for American Descendants of Slavery—seeks to reclaim/restore the critical national character of the African American identity and experience, one grounded in our group’s unique lineage, and which is central to our continuing struggle for social and economic justice in the United States.
Someone might simply identify as Black-American if they’re like me: my father is Jamaican and my mom is white/American. I’m biracial but visibly Black, but being born and raised outside of Jamaica I don’t feel comfortable claiming to be Caribbean-American, because while that may be true technically (ethnically?), it’s not true culturally.
Thus, I identify as Black/Black-American because I am racially Black and American by culture.
This term is the one that is the newest to me and that I’m the least familiar with. BAME stands for Black/Asian/Minority Ethnic. “Minority Ethnic” is relatively similar to ‘POC’, but more nuanced for Black and Asian people as it’s a UK term and those are the ethnic majorities in that region.
I don’t know the history as I mentioned, but I’ve received commentary by UK residents that the term has recently fallen out of favor like POC as well because it isn’t nuanced enough. I expect to see a new UK term coming to light soon!
The Black Lives Matter movement is exactly that—Black
The ongoing movement called BLM is a Black rights movement and ‘Black’ is appropriate because racism is a worldwide issue. Black is not a negative or offensive term. But each term has it’s own nuance and place in context!
When in doubt, I believe people should be as specific as possible when addressing societal issues and topics connected to a certain race, you should just reference those people.
When in doubt: be specific.
Not simple enough? Basically, if you’re talking about Asian issues, say Asian, if you’re talking about Black issues, say Black—same goes for Indigenous-Americans, Latinx, Asian-American, African American, etc.
Don’t be lazy and use terms like BIPOC or POC when you really should be more specific because it erases that specific races’ history and unique voice. When you’re referring to a specific daughter or son’s grades you don’t say “the kids got a D in Biology”. Be specific!
There are complex ideas behind these terms and they can be confusing, but they are worth researching and trying to understand if you intend to use them.
Why should you care?
Some people might ask: why all the labels? It seems like these terms change every 5 minutes. PC culture is annoying. These terms divide people. When I hear this I hear “I don’t see color”.
We operate in a white-centric society that does not see us as equal. And it’s not about “not seeing” our differences. We’ll always have differences! We should acknowledge them accurately and appropriately and embrace them.
So writers, media, and everyday people, please research these terms further on your own time if you intend to use them!
P.S. While we’re here, race (Black, White) is what society sees you as, ethnicity is what you culturally and/or blood relation-ly identify as, and nationality is where your passport says you’re from
P.P.S. Capitalize the B in Black! But that’s another discussion.
Did you learn anything reading this? Are you hearing of any of these terms for the first time?
Let’s chat in the comments.
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