The term “POC” (people/person of color) is thrown around loose and fast on Tumblr, and many times quite inappropriately as well. This can lead to the erasure of lived experiences, neo-imperialistic projections onto non-Western contexts and ultimately can reinforce white supremacy in turn. I find the rampant abuse of this term on and off of Tumblr (but especially on this platform) to be exasperating to say the least. It’s one of many reasons that I’ve grown increasingly tired of even engaging with conversations on here, but a recent conversation I had with another friend, who has already left tumblr, prompted me to write this short list for one of my Tumblr major pet-peeves.
So with that let us begin, HOW NOT TO USE THE TERM POC (in 2 steps):
1. Non-Western Contexts
As a Nigerian I find this to be especially irritating. I have seen people throw race into the #BringBackOurGirls conversation, even as Nigeria is a more than 99% “black” country where we do not even consciously identify as black ourselves because (ding ding) basically EVERYONE is black! We do not see ourselves as black in the context of Nigeria, but now we are suddenly “persons of color”? I can hear my Nigerian aunties hissing at the thought even as I write this.
I also once saw someone on tumblr call Ghana a “majority POC” nation and I was absolutely floored. In yet another country where people don’t even identify as black, suddenly they are now “POC” as well? This is Western centrism and cavalier neo-imperialistic projections of Western racial politics onto the wider world in action. Race is a social construct which varies tremendously from place to place, and taking a flat view of race on a global scale is myopic to say the least. Calling Nigeria and Ghana nations of “POC” is not only flat out wrong, but it is an erasure that reinforces Western hegemony in turn. We want nothing to do with your word “POC” in our countries, as it has no meaning in the context of our lives there.
At this point it’s important to remember that the term “POC” is a Western political term for organizing in Western contexts against white supremacy. Again, it has no use in a country like Nigeria or Ghana where basically everyone is “black” (by our definition, even though, again we must note that people from these countries don’t even consciously identify with a racial marker like “black” until coming to the West). It also has no use in other “majority POC” nations. For example, how useful is a term like “POC” in a country like Saudi Arabia, where there is brutal, local Arab supremacy rooted in a largely independent history as well? How useful is it in any east Asian country where not even “Asian solidarity” exists given the history and tremendous animus between various peoples in the region? The answer is short- it doesn’t apply. Context is critical. Please stop abusing the term “POC” in non-Western contexts. When you do so, you’re talking over people from these countries, being Western-centric and erasing their lived experiences in turn. Stop.
2. When antiblackness and other specific forms of racialized oppression occur
As a community, many of us black people are still mourning the loss of our murdered son, Trayvon Martin, killed by antiblackness and failed by a virulently white supremacist and antiblack justice system. Yes, other POC are victims of racial violence and hate crimes all of the time, but this specific tragedy was a black tragedy. Trayvon Martin was killed in that neighborhood because he was a black boy whose black body was immediately interpreted by George Zimmerman as a security threat that needed to be tracked, followed, and ultimately extinguished and destroyed. Again this is antiblackness in action.
But to my great surprise, in the midst of our grief, we find other POC waxing long about this being a “POC tragedy.” No, it’s not a POC tragedy, it’s a black tragedy as he was killed for being black. Stating blandly that this is just about some general struggle that all “POC” go through is a form of violence against black people and an erasure of the particularities of our struggle as well. People love to do this with black tragedies in particular, piggy-backing on our pain, but similarly, if someone told me that the murder of Vincent Chin, who was killed for being east Asian-American, was a “POC tragedy” I would also be horrified and disgusted.
In short, stop it. SPECIFY the form of oppression at play, because without doing so you are simply erasing lived experiences and perpetuating white supremacy and the violence against the community in question. Stop it.
And there you have it. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Don’t apply the term “POC” to non-Western contexts and specify forms of oppression when you can in Western contexts. But people regularly fail to do these two simple things- perpetuating violence, white supremacy and Western dominance against marginalized communities across the globe. Please do use the term “POC” as a political organizing tool in the West— I understand its use and importance there and do use it myself in specific ways to encourage solidarity. But I simply have no time for any of the above and hope that one day the abuse of this ostensibly useful term will finally stop.