Who are people of colour? What does POC mean? Who is included in the abbreviation BIPOC?
We are all coloured. I created this poster several years ago to raise awareness about racial equality. The polarities of black and white aren’t doing anyone justice. In my opinion, these labels are a symbol of simplified thinking and aren’t getting us any closer. I hope one day we will not need these or other dividing terms anymore but simply treat all humans fairly.
Technically speaking, human skin colours range somewhere on the spectrum between brownish and pinkish shades. The alert reader will have noticed a more fluid use of labelling here. From the viewpoint, as a colour consultant and personal stance, as an advocate for human rights, we are all people of colour (POC). This is definitely not the classic definition of POC or BIPOC black, indigenous and people of colour. In general, POC refers to people that are not seen as ‘white’.
All lives matter. Everyone´s wellbeing matters.
All of the above said I despise the racist injustice and violence caused by ‘White’ Supremacists many people seen as having darker skin tones have faced for hundreds of years. I pledge for a world that is fair to all of us and I believe a large part of the current civil rights movements have this shared goal.
Millions of people worldwide are exposed to racial, ethnic, cultural and social discrimination and are suffering from violent attacks on an emotional and/or physical level. Examples would be the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the Romani people in Europe, African-Americans and Latin-Americans in the United States, genocides amongst different groups in Africa and so on.
Or how about publicly less visible forms of systemic injustice? Let me just name two examples. Modern-day slavery, present in almost every country and Female Genital Mutilation present in at least 31 countries worldwide. The list is too long to mention all forms of systemic injustice here but you get the picture. I doubt there are many countries, where there is no racial, ethnic, cultural and social injustice we should fight.
Is it the right time to also speak up for justice for all, as a so-called ‘white’ Central European woman?
I have hesitated as I don´t mean to take anything away from the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, I feel the current debate about human rights should be more far-reaching and holistic than it generally is. Originating from Austria, the country where Adolf Hitler was born, a feeling of inherited guilt is ingrained within my country’s culture. Unfortunately, considerably large parts of my countries population are still against a lot they deem foreign or different.
I asked myself, whether it is my place to also speak up for justice for all right now. As a so-called ‘white’ woman, that lived in three EU countries, I have seen and sometimes faced racial, ethnic, social, religious, and gender-based discrimination from people, that could be seen as ‘white people’ and ‘people of colour’ in all those countries and other places on several occasions. This is why I decided to write this article, as I feel there are too many places in this world, where not enough is done to ensure human rights are afforded to everyone.
I think it´s time to understand, that no bigger injustice has ever made a smaller injustice okay and no previous violation of human rights should justify following violations of human rights.
How is this related to the Black Lives Matter movement?
Some of this might seem as if it´s a different topic, and yet, it boils down to the same demand: We have to create safe and fair living conditions for all human beings.
Does any of this mean, human rights violations – very often systemic injustice – against the so-called ‘Black’ Community are any less despicable? Absolutely not. I am aware the ‘Black’ Community has suffered disproportionately compared to many other groups of people. I am also aware the Black Lives Matter movement is a movement that supports equal rights and just treatment for everyone.
Coming from a relatively safe country and what many see as a privileged position, I don´t mean to compare my situation to any of the experiences many people face daily. Nonetheless, I do believe that we have to use this time to change how we deal with injustice on all levels.
The examples and personal experiences described in this article are by no means representative of any group of people. Injustice needs to be fairly addressed though, no matter who causes it, for whichever reason.
The danger of algorithms and living in a bubble.
So far, the common political strategies were to play-off different groups of people against another group. Tactics often were to discredit individuals or certain groups, rather than allowing to discuss uncomfortable topics from all viewpoints. Is this how we want to continue? Sadly, in recent years many have lost the ability for open and honest debate with people, that do not share their mindset 100%. Algorithms in social media have intensified this trend of living in one´s bubble.
Language is powerful. What is the best way to deal with sensitive issues?
I do not claim to have the answer to one of the world´s biggest problems. All of this is a sensitive issue. To be honest, I am worried about not finding the right words. I dislike describing humans by dividing categories and yet it has often been unavoidable in my professional and personal life to provide the context needed to understand an underlying issue. Sometimes it feels impossible to describe anything in a neutral way, without unwantedly using offensive language.
I am not an expert on all politically correct descriptions and social tensions worldwide, so please forgive me, if I have unknowingly hurt anyone. Please feel free to contact me, if you have suggestions to improve the article, in order to write fairly. I am open to feedback. However, openly communicating with the best intentions is vital for positive change. My only intention here is to support the mindset, that all humans are worth the same and deserve justice. I hope one day we will not need dividing descriptions anymore. What I am certain about though is:
The human brain works thinking in categories.
Naturally, the human brain is built for clustering information in categories, to save energy, when dealing with complex issues. Stereotyping causes an emotional divide and can in the worst case lead to physical violence. I am sad it took this long, but I feel recent events have clearly shown us, it is time to make a conscious effort to stop saving energy and deal with complex issues in a fair and differentiated manner.
Everyone can make a difference.
Understanding the mechanisms of the human brain can be a starting point for the path many have set out walking, and not just talking about anymore. I see thousands of people everywhere in the world now demonstrating peacefully, to show their support for what is often sweepingly summarized as the ‘Black’ Community.
Frankly speaking, it disgusts me to see politicians stating they are worried about the potential spread of the Covid19 virus amongst protesters against injustice, without using their power positively to prevent a potential spread. To every problem, there is a solution. In this case, the solution is simple. Make bigger spaces available, so demonstrators are able to keep more distance.
Social change is possible.
The current rise of Black Lives Matter demonstrations expresses the deep-rooted belief of millions of people worldwide, that it is time to overhaul the complete system. Following the tragic murder of George Floyd, a so-called ‘black’ man in Minneapolis by a so-called ‘white policeman’ and others watching on 25th May 2020, signs for positive social change have spread globally. Supporting the fight against the discrimination, injustice and police brutality many humans face, hundreds of thousands of people of all colours are now demonstrating for equality, safety and justice for all.
Returning with my observations to my native Austria, that tiny Central European state with roughly 8,9 million inhabitants, thousands of people are now taking to the street to show their support for so-called ‘Black’ Communities worldwide. To understand the momentousness of this action, please let me explain the context. Firstly, Austria has no remarkable culture of demonstrating. Secondly, only a marginally small number of inhabitants is not considered as ‘white’. The ethnical mix in this region of the world is very different to the USA or the UK for instance. And yet, my native country has a tragic history and present problem with racial, ethnical, cultural and social injustice and cruelty. The truth is though, that most countries have (not that this makes it any better) and it is long overdue we seriously tackle this issue on a global and holistic basis. I ask all of us to not play the ‘you-are-guilty-and-or-privileged-therefore-your-opinion-does-not-count-game’, as we have become used to.
Have we reached a tipping point in the fight for human rights?
The sobering events of the recent days may be the tipping point for the social change many have been longing for. We all have the opportunity to participate in creating a fair world for everyone.
Let us please stop thinking in ‘black’ and ‘white’ (literally and metaphorically). All humans deserve justice, no matter what race, nation or ethnicity they are counted towards, what belief system, gender, sexual orientation or considered social status they may have, have had and might have one day. All of these categorizations would lose their importance if we finally create a world, where human rights are respected at all times and everywhere. There are and always will be many colourful nuances amongst human beings. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us need to learn to be full-spectrum humanists. Let us really create justice for all.