In social justice spaces, online and college campuses alike - Non-Black People of Color (NBPOC) use the words, us, we and the acronym “POC” when discussing issues that pertain to or disproportionately impact Black people. This may be their well-intentioned way of proclaiming solidarity, but when one begins to equate their experience with the Black struggle it ignores the peculiar plight of Black people in America. We are not oppressed in the same ways or to the same degree.
I know the media tries to homogenize us under the hypernym “People of Color” but as Malice of Clipse once said: “Make no mistake, you and I, we are not the same.”
Using “POC” and “Black” interchangeably, especially when you mean Black, obfuscates the nuance of Black racial identity.
I am all for solidarity, but not when it’s contextual, not when it’s complacent, and not when your alliance with Black people goes on hiatus when you log off, go home or get into romantic relationships with White people. NBPOC have a tendency to remain neutral until they’re reminded that they’re not White. As long as they’re socially accepted, they have a selective sense of urgency in aiding Black people, and darker-skinned people within their own communities affected by colorism.
Black people can’t afford to be neutral. Regardless of the year, our position in the racial hierarchy has remained a constant. In the 1960s we were singing “We shall overcome.” In the 2010s we are singing “We gon be alright.” Progress is debatable.
There’s a history of Black people bearing the brunt of White supremacy, while simultaneously undergirding social movements. Black people have a track record of putting in immense physical, mental, and emotional labor to ensure that all oppressed people ― are beneficiaries of our social justice initiatives.
Our movements have always been inclusive. This is why it hurt to see some of the reactions from NBPOC, when a record-breaking six Black actors were nominated at this years’ Oscars. Instead of celebrating with “us” many NBPOC took the White road, and questioned the merit of Black stars; some calling it the “Affirmative Action Oscars.” NBPOC took Black hyper-visibility as a slight to them, and blamed us for not speaking on their behalf for a second straight year. Somehow they didn’t think #OscarsSoWhite was a call for the academy to be inclusive of ALL marginalized people.
We don’t have to lookout for NBPOC but we often choose to. Ya’ll have to start meeting us all the way. In order to sustain coalitions NBPOC have to confront Anti-Blackness within their communities.
The backlash I saw online in the wake of Oscar season, reminded me that Anti-Blackness isn’t limited to White people. Comedian George Lopez recently told a crowd “There’s two rules in the f**cking Latino family. Don’t marry somebody Black, and don’t park in front of our house.” Anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon. There’s probably an epithet to dehumanize Black people in every language. Because of the legacy of White supremacy, Anti-Blackness even affects how Black people view themselves and each other. NBPOC are not exempt from being Anti-Black.
NBPOC are pointing fingers at White people after seeing “Get Out” - but don’t get it twisted. In the eyes of many Black people we see no difference in the way you treat us from White people. Growing up in the inner-city I witnessed both White and NBPOC exploit us. NBPOC followed me around stores, and called the police on me because I looked “suspicious” too.
NBPOC appropriate Black culture, co-opt our struggle when it’s convenient, and speak in cringe-worthy imitations of Black Vernacular English (BVE), but keep Black people at a distance. I have had the chance to cross-paths with some hardcore-engaged NBPOC; I appreciate their support, but I have to hold them just as accountable as I hold White allies. Anti-Blackness can permeate the psyches of even the most well-intentioned people. As much as one might think they “get it” one still needs to check in periodically to make sure they still “got it.” Your work isn’t done just because you’ve watched “Lemonade” and read “Between the World and Me.” NBPOC don’t get a pass by virtue of not being White.