Language is always evolving. We are constantly creating, adding and subtracting words from our vocabulary. This is not only relevant to slang words but also, and especially so, for inclusive language. “BIPOC” stands for Black, indigenous, people of color. The term is very slowly entering the mainstream but is already well known by many in activist circles. The term that you’re more likely to be familiar with is “people of color,” which originally evolved from “colored people.”
So why does this term continue to evolve? Well, “colored people” in its original form was language used by white people in power to discriminate and alienate those who were not white. The term not only has so many negative connotations to it from its ugly past but it wasn’t the choice of the people being othered to be labeled that way. “People of color” was a way to take back and remake that term so that it was something that we had chosen to be called, but it also put the people aspect first. It humanized us!
So why is there another new term? Well, “people of color” was pretty inclusive for when the term was made, but many Black and indigenous people have pointed out that the term yet again erases their identities since it paints all people of color’s experiences as one. And although people of color experience a lot of the same discriminatory practices for not being white, there’s still anti-Blackness which exists in non-Black communities of color and there’s anti-indigenousness in settler communities.
What’s the point in learning this term if there’s bound to be another one? I personally think it’s important that we make our language as inclusive as possible, especially if you don’t belong to either of these marginalized communities. Black people and indigenous communities have been through quite a lot and if just slightly adjusting our languages makes them feel seen, then what really is the price? Even if there will be another more evolved term to use, we don’t have it yet and we do have this one!
Adjective or noun? I would perhaps describe BIPOC as a noun rather than an adjective. I’m still trying to find ways to make it adjective-y. For example, with “people of color,” I still see people say POC doctors but that looks and sounds very cringey to me. The better alternative is doctors of color, which I personally feel like flows better. I haven’t found a good way to incorporate that with BIPOC though, so perhaps saying things like BIPOC doctors works since there’s no alternative yet. I will however note that I think it’s acceptable to say BIWOC when you’re only referring to Black, indigenous, women of color and BIMOC when you’re only referring to Black, idigenous, men of color.
There are so many new words, phrases and abbreviations that are becoming more mainstream because of their inclusivity and I think that’s wonderful. It can also be very impactful making someone feel heard and seen just from using more conscious language. I would definitely encourage you to explore them and work on making your vocabulary more purposeful. Language is not only shaped by our worldviews but it also shapes our worldviews.