'BIPOC' and the Politics of Race in the U.S.

A raised fist created with color ranging from light brown to dark brown.

Raja Gopal Bhattar, Ph.D., (they/them/theirs) hails from a long lineage of Hindu spiritual leaders from the Srivaishnava tradition. They are a higher education leader, advocate, and consultant. Bhattar is a 2020 Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.


If you are in social justice circles, you probably have heard the term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other People of Color) in place of other terminology to describe People of Color (which has commonly included all non-White racial identities). Especially given the visibility of Anti-Black violence and impact of COVID on indigenous communities, BIPOC has come to be popular in highlighting  the continued impact of forced enslavement, displacement and destruction of cultures through the colonization of what we now know as the United States. While the term came into use in the early 2010’s, it has gained more popularity and recognition since mid-2020.  

What I appreciate about this term is that it seems to have come from within the community  and centers the effect of intergenerational trauma and structural violence still plaguing these two racial communities in the U.S. The blatant Anti-Blackness within white and other racial communities, colorism, disproportionate health risks and outcomes, lack of access to appropriate medical care and impact on life expectancy and loss of culture are all well documented by scholars and community leaders. While I support and value the unique struggle of Black and Indigenous people, I believe this term does more harm than good for non-white people. We already know that even the terms Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern/Arab and White are overly simplified categories that strip communities of our unique ethnic, national and regional diversity and immigration histories within each group and were developed from overgeneralizations to aid colonization. This is exactly what happened to Black people as they were forcefully enslaved and experienced erasure/destruction of much of their history, culture, language, families, and homelands. Similarly, Indigenous people of North America were the target of genocide, relocation, religious conversion and other atrocities. While Latinx, Asian, Desi and multiracial people have different immigration patterns, and degrees of cultural colonization and access to whiteness in the U.S., many of these processes were developed due to xenophobic U.S. immigration policies and practices and political violence in other parts of the world due U.S. foreign policy. Going to earlier history, the “discovery” of the Americas by European “explorers” was an accidental result in their journey to find yet another path to continue exploitation and colonization of the Indian peninsula. Today we collude with and resist these terms and categories in individual and communal ways as our own trauma and healing process continues. 

Within this context, what does it mean to lump together people who are not Black or Indigenous into a broad group when we are already made invisible in U.S. race conversations? Where do multiracial people go? When do these groups get to be part of the conversation? As a Desi 1.5 generation, gender-queer immigrant, deeply melanated immigrant, I often wonder what is my place in this work? I’ve been told I’m too close to whiteness to “fully understand” what it’s like to be a Person of Color while also being used as a wedge by white people to fracture solidarity movements and further marginalize Black people. The impact of anti-Asian racist rhetoric and violence in light of 9/11, COVID-19 and other events continue to remind me that I will never be enough to be a part of the racial framework of the U.S, always the “other”. The term BIPOC continues to feed this othering and I would argue is partially the root of targeted anti-Asian violence by other racial communities that we are witnessing. Similar to anti-Blackness, anti-Asianness has been and continues to be a part of American experience as witnessed by the citizenship laws and other policies in U.S. history. We cannot find liberation if we are simply fighting each other, rather than the actual dominant structure that has actually created these systems of oppression that is literally killing Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern and multiracial people. 

Other terms I’ve heard are racially oppressed/marginalized, multicultural, underrepresented, underserved, ALANA (African American, Latinx, Asian, and Native American) and the global majority. Many of these terms label communities from a deficit perspective while trying to name the systemic nature of race in the U.S. Each of these has their own journey in our racial journey that I’m not digging into today. I’ve also noticed a trend of books that uplift the racial trauma of people of color communities in the U.S.; where POC is used as a synonym for Black and Indigenous people and often leave out Asian, Latinx and multiracial communities in the discussion. I find it especially troubling when these books focus on racial healing practices through traditions of Buddhism and mindfulness originating from various Asian cultures.  Using us when it’s useful and then making us invisible when no longer needed; isn’t this the true tradition of American imperial, racial and colonial experience for various marginalized communities here and around the world? 

So this begs the question, who is actually served by the term BIPOC?  I would argue it primarily serves whiteness by naming a hierarchy of oppression in relation to whiteness. If we are talking about the experiences specific to an ethnic, racial or regional community, why not just say Black or Salvadorian or Southeast Asian than BIPOC? Let’s name who we are talking about and the importance of  the specificity is needed. While People of Color creates a gigantic umbrella for experiences, it recognizes intersections and differences in how race, and more importantly racism, impacts us. Our complex lived experiences, interrelated solidarity movements and activist ancestors require us to rethink the intention and impact of the term BIPOC. A friend reminded me that the term People of Color actually has been in use for centuries to define our communities.  Yet, I acknowledge POC is also overly simplistic but allows for us to be in conversation as we unravel the complexity of complexion politics and strive to honor the various streams of our experiences towards a collective liberation. The sad irony is that even in this discussion, we are using the language of colonizers to engage in this discussion because it is the one common tongue many of us share. 

I am committed to continued work towards terminology and frameworks that name and dismantle the unique, deeply rooted and present day violences against Black people and the Indigenous people of this land. How can we accomplish this process with language that recognizes our shared struggle and commitment to social and structural change.  I can’t use the privileges I have as a Desi/Asian American towards our collective liberation if I’m not even able to be part of the conversation or community. I’ve been nervous about even sharing this piece but I’m sharing this as a form of vulnerability to bring APIDA voices into the conversation and invite others into dialogue on this topic. So what terms do we use? It depends. It depends on the context, audience and who is using the term. The beauty is in the messiness and complexity. Most important is just asking what words we are using and what is our intended impact? 


Further Reading:

  1. Garcia, S.E. (June 2020). “Where did BIPOC come from?” Published in the New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-bipoc.html. (June 17, 2020)

  2. Brown, A. (Feb. 2020) “The changing categories the U.S. has used to measure race.” The Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/25/the-changing-categories-the-u-s-has-used-to-measure-race/.  (February 25, 2020). 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar commemorating Muhammad’s reception of the Qur’an, begins on Monday.
"Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience."
This year, Ramadan will begin on Monday or Tuesday (April 12 or 13), depending on when Muslims around the world sight the new moon that signals the beginning of the lunar month.
"In the Qur’an, God – Exalted Be He – proclaims that we should ask the people endowed with knowledge…All the experts are saying the same thing: please get vaccinated and do it now."
"Among the topics educators must address to reduce bullying and to ensure representation in the classroom are religion and religious identity."
Whether I am based in Los Angeles, Washington DC, or Kansas City, I remain committed to building bridges of mutual respect and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
Biden said the partnership between the seminary and a community health center is one of many that are happening between religious and medical organizations across the nation.
"All the more so, we need more translators to help us understand what exists before our eyes, yet remains elusive to our understanding."
'Montero' is the anthem of a Black gay man roaring back from years of self-hate caused by anti-LGBTQ+ theologies. As a queer child of the Black church, it’s an anthem that resonates with me.
The rise of the "nones" — people who say they have no religion — is to some extent the result of a shift in how Americans understand religious identity.
Faith-based agencies like LIRS, which often contract with the federal government to settle migrants, were decimated by the Trump administration's border policies and then by COVID-19 restrictions.
About 550,000 chairs sit empty around the tables of American homes today — each one a reminder of the unbearable loss we have incurred.
But this year, as in 2020, crowds are banned from gathering in Italy and at the Vatican. Francis delivered his noon Easter address on world affairs from inside the basilica, using the occasion to appeal anew that vaccines reach the poorest countries.
This story is available to readers in both English and Spanish. Spanish title: Nuestro Chat Familiar Cubano: Un Microcosmos de Nuestra República Democrática
Some evangelicals have even linked coronavirus vaccinations to the “mark of the beast” – a symbol of submission to the Antichrist found in biblical prophecies, Revelation 13:18.
"I started Holy Week, lamenting that I didn’t have a story of Jesus that I felt comfortable sharing with my six-year-old son and his six-year-old mind, heart and spirit. So I wrote one."
For centuries, this prayer was worded in a way to imply an anti-Semitic meaning, referring to the Jews as “perfidis,” meaning “treacherous” or “unfaithful.”
Higher Ed Leader Raja G. Bhattar writes and performs a beautiful poem that was inspired recently, after attending my first all Desi/South Asian meditation retreat.
Yet while Gen-Y and Gen-Z evangelicals are exhibiting greater concern for various pressing issues, there are threads within our social fabric that require more of their attention: and religious diversity is among them.
"In my mind, COVID represents Mitzrayim, the narrow place, our place of enslavement, the place of trauma and pain. As more of us are vaccinated and we move toward freedom, we find ourselves at the edge of the sea thinking about our past, our pain..."
"A lot of people are really excited," said Sheikh Adam Jamal, assistant imam. "There's people, seniors, who probably have been doing taraweeh (at a mosque) every year since they were young... They've missed it for a year—that was just devastating."

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.