Why is White the Default?

Source: Anizia Fulmore, Intern, SC Women in Leadership

I never heard the term “people of color” until my freshman year of college. It was not a term I used to describe myself as a Black and Dominican young girl growing up.

The term POC originated in 1965 and was created by Black leaders in defiance of the term “colored” used to identify Black people for many years. Now, POC has been taken and used to classify everyone that is not white and is frequently used interchangeably today with Black, when they are not mutually exclusive.

POC has turned into an umbrella term that groups all “non-white” people together. But why is white the default? I always wondered if I was the only one who felt that way. When I asked my friends and peers, they were also puzzled. When we see BIPOC everywhere, it’s hard to identify who specifically the media is talking about. It’s a new term, “Black, Indigenous, and people of color”, that lumps together everyone with darker skin tones. 

These terms, POC and BIPOC, erase the struggles that each individual group faced and faces. It’s easier to lump everyone together, combine their struggles and oppression, and consider that the “minority experience.” Maybe it gives them a sense of comfort, like they are including everyone under this term. Yay! A win for the minorites. Is this helping or harming the fight for equality and justice for Black people? The term “POC” serves as a limitation, rather than a progression. Though it may have originated to be inclusive, it actually discounts the unique historical experiences and individual identities of minority groups and prevents us from collectively addressing systemic racism. 

When saying BIPOC or POC, keep in mind what group you are talking about. Police brutality is not a major problem for every “person of color”, nor is systemic racism, when looked at proportionally. It is important to look more carefully to understand who and what is happening to each group. There is a difference and if everyone took a step back and looked, we could begin to understand how our use of language contributes to systemic racism. 

No one has the same experience and instead of trying to group everyone together, we need to assess why white people think that is okay to continue to identify everyone with those terms. Different experiences matter because they provide a deeper understanding to someone’s life. When a blanket term is thrown over that, the experience becomes meaningless.

Source: Anizia Fulmore, Intern, SC Women in Leadership

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