You & I Have Work To Do: Analyzing The Hypernym That Is "People of Color"

Image: Brayan Lopez

Image: Brayan Lopez

Let’s take a minute to acknowledge the elephant in the room: non-black people of color (hereafter referred to as NBPOC) perpetuate anti-blackness, whether they’re conscious about it or not.

That’s not to say, however, that their usage of the umbrella term “people of color” (as well as the pronouns “us” or “we”) are coated with malice; well-intentioned activists and social justice organizers have often, in a far-from-disingenuous manner, proclaimed their solidarity as a means to homogenize the Black experience in America. However, when the want to disassociate from the less-ornamental aspects of civil disobedience mixes with the want to equate one’s suffering with Black trauma, it becomes increasingly obvious that NBPOC are more concerned with the maintenance of their haughty ambivalence; the need to understand the intergenerational, multilateral, and preternatural acuteness of the Black predicament in America has slowly morphed into acquisition, and, in a similar vein, the want to remain neutral — which is just a non-confrontational and less detestable way to say “complacent” — overrides the want to be liberated. A sense of detachment comes with a sense of protection — an understandable desire manufactured from centuries of rampant subjugation, hypervisibility, and dehumanization — but it also violates the alliance that you so impassionately said you have with Black people. Your calmness in the face of our extermination is no different from the hands that license it; your dispiriting co-optations of “We shall overcome” speaks, presentationally, more volumes than our work — uncompensated, undergirded, but widely-regurgitated — would have ever dreamed to. Your ability to afford neutrality, a price that is equal-parts steep and equal-parts unattainable for us, unsung heroes who would rather die with our deliberateness than shine the shoes of the oppressor, allows you to switch positions in a racial hierarchy that we indefatigably debate, but cannot escape. NBPOC — I say this with all of the love in my heart for you and the potentiality of our revolution — my suspicions of your “empathy” is not unfounded; just as you value my professions of self-love, the faint-hearted felicitations I’ve, out of a white supremacy-birthed defensiveness and self-preservation, had to extend to those who have, unwanted and unsolicited, sat in the house that is my body, and the immense physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dissatisfaction that my ancestors endured to sustain our uproariousness, you must value my disapproval, my cacophonous soundlessness, and the usefulness of my rage. There comes a time when your silence is betrayal.

An anti-Black undercurrent is becoming more prevalent in the discombobulation that is marginalization and there seems to be no urge to confront the toxic targeting behaviors and transmisogynoir that has emerged from it; Black people who are trying to exist despite discouraging conditions only have their toxic self-hatred, equipped with a newer, more degenerate attitude, unceremoniously tossed back into their faces. NBPOC fall victim to the same illusions of condescension that impoverished whites do — that by assuming a mantle of authoritarianism, by chipping away at the scraps of defiance that Black people perceive to be the epicenter of their healing, that they will be welcomed to sit with the cushioned, the prioritized, the default. The punishment that I and all queer BIPOC face when caught by a white justiciar will always become intensified through the duality of the “burdensomeness” that we hold: being Black/Indigenous and being nonheterosexual, non-cis, etc. Blanket statements of unification and digital multicolored fists will not save us from the near-permanence of the divisiveness that has seeped its way into our communities; superficialities and sweeping generalizations of demographic-specific language serve only as another layer of prohibitions that amplifies the degradation concomitant with marginalization, letting BIPOC folks grow more susceptible and distrustful of those who champion our culture but associate with those who would gladly spectate our extermination.

This act of dissoluteness, NBPOC, is one that is becoming a phenomenon of convenience and relaxation, resulting in the deterioration of BIPOC originality, recognition, and patience; the burgeoning popularity of using “POC” and “Black” interchangeably has only disparaged the distinctiveness of Black identity, contributing to my belief that the level of progress that we have made to make our movements more egalitarian remains minimal.

If you do not explicitly say “BIPOC”, then you did not include us. If you are not proactively unlearning your own preconceived notions, passing the megaphone to BlPOC voices, and justly compensating the work that BIPOC — no matter how nonconformist — do to accelerate your sociopolitical Renaissance, then you are not supporting us. Advocacy is not about being the most uncommon, the most inconceivably-incredible, and the most prominent; it’s not about who has the most illustriousness or who got the best news snapshots. It is about doing what white supremacy paints as incomprehensible behavior and expecting to not get congratulated for it and it is about uplifting disenfranchised voices unapologetically, recklessly, and unremarkably-remarkably so that we are community-sufficient. Individualized, patronizing pats on the back from the closeted-supporters of the system — in all of its self-aggrandizing impermanence — will mean nothing in the end. That end will signify the end of all its cheerleaders, adherents, and figureheads; and, by distribution, that will mean the end of our peculiar plight, its posthumous existence dangling by the thread of your complacency. My people deserve that much.

NBPOC, you do not have to fight me in order for us to be seen alongside each other. I know that the shackles which bind you are different from my own, and that the fire which propels you to exist despite all of your apprehensiveness, all your contradictions, and all of your knowledge that proves that this structural darkness is not a production of your hypersensitivity is just as so. I do not have to be you to recognize that our strength — brought to conspicuousness by adversities tenderized by the same hand — together is fearsome. The head we have by ourselves speaks our own truth. Our renovation of the old and forgotten sings a rousing tune that would have made both of our respective answers smile and acknowledge the beauteousness of our sameness. I await our unity just as eagerly as I await new combinations, fever-brained Weltanschauungs, and unconditional self-recognition — in all of its awkwardness. However, just as feverish as my joyousness is, so is my rage. Ragefulness born out the pain my forbears mastered and refashioned into their disconcertment. A ragefulness that taught me that the pertinence of my and all BIPOC lives should not be discounted to be the incantation of responsibility that rouses you to give up your core — your proximity to whiteness — because it is the most rewardingly-dangerous option applicable. When you see a BIPOC struggling, do something; not something that is intolerable, that is wasteful, but something that serves as a redefinition of perseverance for them and a life-changing, distinguishable, and non-Schadenfreudian moment of unlearning for you. The quality by which you unsilence the voices that were prescribed as voiceless, the tenderness in which you interact with BIPOC vulnerability — which simultaneously proves to be our most effective but misunderstood strength — and the willingness you have to take a monumental risk, the risk to unbelieve repeatedly, then you bridge the divide of sharing — the sharing of pridefulness, the sharing of onerous intellectual labor, the sharing of emotional, physical, and spiritual courageousness.

We BIPOC have sparked the swelling of an indescribable pride, wrote the manifesto for a revolution of sacrifice, lobbied for the defenestration of our whiteness-sponsored obliviousness, and built the foundation for our agency, our choice to make our “disrespectfulness” inseparable from our magnanimousness— the delegitimization of whiteness’s self-serving assessment — to thrive despite our commitment to a revolutionary’s life.

I am an Afrolatinx genderqueer femme. I am a logomaniac. I love talking, writing, and adventuring — as most teenaged extroverts do — but I also love my Blackness, in all of its unconventionality, lopsidedness, and irresistibility; that means that I must undertake the task to appreciate and respect myself — no matter how many quirks lose the fight — as though the only means to justify my existence lies within their power. I am grabbing my roots, no matter if the action is considered to be political commentary or not.

Acknowledge these truths, NBPOC. Caress them and tell them that they have value. Demand space for them to take up residence, to disperse, and to speak strength into reality.

Or, they will be very ones that destroy us.

Zoe Rivera Comment