Why POC is a Terrible Term

In my line of blogging, I refer, frequently and often, to groups of people. This means I spend a lot of time thinking about ethnonyms (perhaps too much time.)

So what’s wrong with People of Color?

Simply put, it doesn’t actually correspond with any meaningful, real-world group.

Whenever we speak of one group of people, we of course imply the existence of everyone else who is not of that group. We can speak of Chinese and non-Chinese, whites and non-whites, Poles and non-Poles. But it is clear from this phrasing that “non-X” is not a group defined by any common characteristic, but by lack of a characteristic–whatever X is. No one attempts to describe what it is like to be “non-Chinese” because there is no such real-life group as “non-Chinese,” and there is therefore no single experience that non-Chinese people have.

The term PoC attempts to imply that there such a thing as a unitary non-white experience, and by contrast, a unitary white experience. Take, for example, this comic, which is supposed to “[explore] a subtle kind of racism many people of color experience”:

picture-15abFun personal story time: Despite having been married for many years, doctors and maternity ward staff have assumed I’m single. (There’s special paperwork for single moms.)

Meanwhile, Asians are PoC, and yet these are not questions that people typically ask Asians, because there’s no stereotype that Asians have high teen pregnancy rates and are bad at school. Asians do have to deal with racism and dumb questions, but since Asians aren’t black, their experiences aren’t black experiences.

Indeed, the girl drawn in the comic is clearly not Asian, Indian, or Hispanic, but black! The author purposefully wrote about a black person, and yet the person promoting the comic decided to ignore this and pretend that the comic is about the experiences of all non-white people (and, of course, never the experiences of whites.)

This duality is false.

Whites are not particularly unified. It wasn’t so long ago that Germany invaded Poland and killed 1/5 of the population (not to mention all of the other people who died on various sides during WWII.) In 1932-33, the Soviet Union committed genocide against millions of Ukrainians (also white). During the Second Anglo-Boer war, the English committed genocide against the Dutch-descended people of South Africa. The Irish, Italians, and Jews are still claiming to be exempt from historical “white privilege” arguments due to discrimination against their ancestors.

Jayman's map of the American Nations
Jayman’s map of the American Nations

I could go on–the list of European wars and inter-ethnic conflicts extends approximately forever, after all.

In the US, of course, “white” is a more meaningful term than in Europe, but even here, there are major distinctions of class, culture, and genetics. The average white person from West Virginia is not the same as the average white from New York, Texas, or Minnesota. Not only were these places originally settled by different groups of whites–Appalachia received whites from the “borderlands” region of Britain while Minnesota is heavily Scandinavian–but they currently have very different cultures.

Class further complicates matters, with Southern and rural whites generally seen as low-class (and treated accordingly) by other whites. Much of our current political debate can be seen as a fight between white social classes, with wealthy whites using a coalition of non-whites as a cudgel against poor whites.

clk4xrpugam65ajIronically, Asian and Indian (not Native American) migrants are wealthier and higher-class than whites (though there are distinctions even among these, as “Asian” is not a single, homogenous group.)


Now, I can hear some of you saying, “but race is a social construct, and yet you use terms like ‘black’ and ‘white’ as though they were meaningful! How are these more meaningful than ‘PoC’?”

Look, “race” is a social construct the way “color” is a social construct. There is no sharp dividing line between “red” and “orange,” but we don’t go saying that the electromagentic spectrum is a myth.

Racial groups are culturally, historically, and genetically real. Sub-Saharan Africans are more closely related to Sub-Saharan Africans than to Europeans. Europeans are more closely related to other Europeans than to Asians. And Asians are more closely related to other Asians than to Aborigines. Here is Haak et al’s full graph of modern human DNA (except for the far left portion, which comes from old skeletons):

Picture 1Picture 2

The “light blue” portion is found only in Africa. The “orange” is Europe and Asia. The “yellow” is east-Asian.

There’s an entire field of science devoted to tracing ancient migrations via the patterns found in modern human DNA, because the DNA of different ethnic groups is different. Black, white, and Asian are, in fact, fundamental genetic groupings as a result of early human migrations.

There’s another, related field devoted to ethnic variations in responses to medical care. Organ donation, sickle cell anemia risk, and even medications can be significantly impacted by race:

Although organ transplants can occur between races, matches are more difficult to achieve for blacks. Transplant recipients must have similar genes in their immune systems to those of the donor. Otherwise, the body will reject the organ.

G6PD deficiency is protective against malaria
G6PD deficiency is protective against malaria

And from Racial and ethnic differences in response to medicines: towards individualized pharmaceutical treatment:

Pharmacogenetic research in the past few decades has uncovered significant differences among racial and ethnic groups in the metabolism, clinical effectiveness, and side-effect profiles of many clinically important drugs.

The interactions between genetics and medication are complicated, and doctors have to know this because it puts their patients at risk not to.

No word is perfect. Every ethnonym represents a compromise between absolute accuracy and being able to make any statements about human groups at all. Not all English are the same, but we can still make some generalized statements that are basically true for most English people. Not all Chinese are the same, but we can still speaking meaningfully about “the Chinese.” There is a huge amount of variation among “whites,” “blacks,” and “Asians,” but even at this coarse level, we can still say some meaningful things.

“PoC” is a political term that corresponds to no real-world culture or group.

32 thoughts on “Why POC is a Terrible Term

  1. So what’s wrong with People of Color?

    Simply put, it doesn’t actually correspond with any meaningful, real-world group.

    Who cares? In very real ways it’s us vs them, regardless of which us/ them group you belong too.

    All folks really need to understand is them ain’t us and what they want is likly not in the us groups best interests.


  2. I understand you point, but I do think that, at least in the US, there is a meaningful distinction between the white vs. the non-white experience.

    For example: Recently in an election debate, Tammy Duckworth, whose background is white/asian, talked about her own and her family’s military service going back to the American Revolution. She herself is a war veteran who lost both of her legs as a US Army pilot. Her debate opponent, a GOP Senator, snidely replied: “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

    That’s the kind of treatment that non-whites are more likely to get than whites in the US. In superficial situations, a white immigrant who speaks perfect English is automatically deemed American, whereas a 5th generation Chinese-American who also speaks perfect English is far more likely to be deemed foreign, if not told to “go back to China.” Some Native-Americans can look a bit asian-ish, and I’m sure some of them have been treated as less than American by whites. And I’m sure there are plenty of Latino-Americans who have been deemed less than American by whites.

    When I use “non-whites” or “PoC”, I don’t use it because either whites or non-whites are monolithic. I know they’re not. It’s because, *historically* in the US, people were viewed in white v. non-white terms. E.g., during segregation, there were white v. colored restrooms. That dichotomy has lessened but still persists. The two groups still have different social experiences. And sometimes it is useful to talk about it. I don’t know what other term to use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eh, it’s no big deal either way. PoC is a politically laden word, used by the SJWs and people who interact a lot with SJWs. Lower-class who aren’t familiar with SJW culture get caught in the “Oh you used an outdated word! You must be racist!” trap, which I object to. This dynamic is super classist and not useful–it doesn’t matter at all if some poor person refers to people as “minorities” instead of PoCs.

      I generally aim for political neutrality when describing groups, but constantly shifting ethnonyms makes this tricky, and PoC is definitely not neutral.

      I know this Hungarian guy who used to get mistaken for an Indian as a kid.

      That Republican was an ass. :(

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Simply put, it doesn’t actually correspond with any meaningful, real-world group”

    It separates them from people of little or no color, which I am pretty sure is the point.


      • My ancestors established this nation for themselves and their decedent’s ie their kids, me, my kids etc not poc or jews or hajjis or what have you.

        So I have 0 sympathy for frogien born and non Whites who have a rough time here.

        On the other side of the equation I never expected not to be an outside while living in Korea, Colombia, Dubai etc etc.


      • My ancestors have lived here for 400+ years and General Sherman actually burned down my great-great-great grandparents’ farm, but Alex is my best friend so I’d prefer that he stay here.


      • Some of mine got here at Jamestown, the rest not to long after. Again not relevant.

        Bringing the various ethnic Whites was hell on our native born working class, lead to the current state of socialism etc in the usa and radically changed our culture and day to day life. hell yankees do that just by moving 400 miles South.

        This will never be a stable cohesive nation as long as it is a diverse nation. Diversity is never strength, it is always a weak point. Always causes conflict. It is always political oppsistion, it always weakens/ changes etc the traditional culture, always causes the least able of the native born to struggle and always requires the heavy hand of government to enforce.

        You can want what you want, but you should count the full cost. And count the cost to those less able to deal with the extra competition


      • “…If you were directing that at Alex, he doesn’t think whites are horrible, he just doesn’t like feeling like an outsider…”

        I also disagree that there is somehow some mandate on White’s to make every race comfortable and accepted in White countries. No other country does this for Whites. If a White person lives in an Asian country you are NEVER, EVER, the same as other Asians or are you treated as so. It’s offensive to have other races place burdens on Whites that they would never place on themselves. It’s quite conceited and immoral. Maybe White people should start demanding all kinds of things from POC that we wouldn’t do ourselves then hurl abuse at them when they don’t want to do what we demand of them.


      • I’m okay with white cultures being unique. Most non-white cultures don’t have norms about cleaning up dog poop, either, but I’m not going to advocate for change on that basis.

        Most people desire to be accepted as full members of their own society. There’s nothing wrong with that instinct. The problem in the West is that our countries have let in people whom we know full well will not and cannot become full members of society, either because of folks already here who don’t want the newcomers or because the newcomers themselves are unwilling to assimilate. It’s a problem and it’s sensible to be pissed at this, but there’s not really a good reason to take it out on someone who wants to assimilate.


    • Non-whites have made tremendous contribution to the US, even bled and died to protect whites.

      Take for example, WWII. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the US Army was a segregated unit composed Japanese-Americans, mostly volunteers. The 442nd became THE MOST decorated unit of its size in U.S. history. In less than two years of combat, the unit earned more than 18,000 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 21 Medals of Honor. (Source: http://www.history.com/news/unlikely-world-war-ii-soldiers-awarded-nations-highest-honor) They volunteered even though the government, despite lacking any evidence of disloyalty, had forced many of them and their families into internment camps.

      One of their heroic achievements is the rescue of the “Lost Battalion,” the 36th Infantry Division from the Texas National Guard. The 36th, trapped by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, France, was running out of time and supplies. The 442nd fought through the German lines, taking 800+ casualties, and ended up saving 211 Texans. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Battalion_(Europe,_World_War_II).

      I remembered a documentary in which one of the Japanese American soldiers was interviewed (I think it was Daniel Inouye, who lost his right arm while serving in the 442nd .) He said, after the 36th division was freed, one of the soldiers said to him, “I never thought I’d so glad to see nips.” (That’s a paraphrase – I watched the documentary years ago and don’t remember the exact words.) That’s what the Japanese Americans soldiers got: despite their sacrifices to save fellow American soldiers, they were handed a racial epithet. I can still picture Inouye’s face. After all those decades, the comment still stung.

      You want the US to be a white nation – I respect your right to that view. To me, what’s important is how a person acts, not their race. I want to know if the person shares my values, will help me when I’m down, will contribute to my society, will try to treat others with decency. That is about character. And good and bad characters will come in all races. I’d rather live with a good person of another race than a bad person of my own race.


      • Doesn’t change a damn thing. This nation was not established for anyone but the decedent’s of the founders

        I was ( was as they have died) personal friends with some of the 442 guys. Including one who earned the CMH. None of which is relevant.

        Nor have I said non Whites are bad based on not being White. I said they don’t belong here anymore then I belong in Japan.


  4. I’ve seen to much and to many failed states to change my mind. The third world has moved in and turned large sections of the usa into the third world. Like I said support what you want to but count the cost of the damage done.

    In no way can you take an honest look and say it has added value to the typical family in the usa.


    • My dad had polio as a child and suffered permanent nerve damage as a result. Jonas Salk, the man who found the polio vaccine, was a Jew. I think not catching polio is actually pretty awesome. I also like that we didn’t have to invade the Japanese mainland because of atomic bombs.

      I think there’s a big difference between, “society benefits from the occasional exchange of smart people who want to integrate and contribute” and “let’s let in 50 million people from broken 3rd world countries who’ll recreate their third-world societies in the middle of every major city.”

      But I’m not trying to force you to live near or hang out with my friends.


      • It is human nature to only focus on the self

        And what you are engaging is the what if game. We should not have been in the ww2 or stirring other folks kool-aide and getting dragged into such things


      • But you are asking is to havensure frogien people enter the usa and changes things most Americans don’t think need changing

        And most don’t, which is why immigration isn’t/ wasn’t put to a vote and was instead forced from the top down


  5. POC is a politically-motivated term to reduce all “others” on the planet to “less-than” status.
    Does anyone really believe that Kenyans in the bush consider themselves POCs?
    Does anyone really believe that the BILLIONS of people in China identify themselves as POCs?
    It is a term of identity-surrender that SOME Non-Caucasians in the US have internalized that turns them into political crayons.
    It is meant to create some BOGUS BULL-SHIT non-existent FAKE “solidarity” that has not existed on the planet since our collective ancestors were picking lice off each other’s asses.
    POC is the finally wimper of people so weak in their own identity that they reduce themselves to a 3-letter label…sad bunch from any angle.


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