September 17, 2021

Are Asians POC?

Illustrated by Joelle Padgett
Illustrated by Joelle Padgett

    With the discussions of racial theory being such an impassioned subject, influenced by politics and personal experience, I have attempted to stay quiet on the entire matter. Truthfully, I thought this was a subject that I was not qualified to speak about. Having this mindset, I struggled with an impressive writer’s block, doing everything in my power to avoid a topic I considered myself unfit to write about. 

It was during this time that many started to feel comfortable voicing their thoughts on race, colorism, and demanding accountability. Somewhere in these people’s descriptions, the phrase “person of color” credentialed them. Of course, they could talk about these issues! They were the exact people it was affecting! I celebrated to know that after so long, these topics were being discussed, and I didn’t blink an eye at the phrase Person of Color (otherwise known as POC).

That is until I started pondering what the acronym stood for. Who was considered colored? How big was the umbrella of people it covered? My biggest question: 

Are Asian people, even those not culturally “black”, considered people of color?

The dictionary definition of POC, “anyone who isn’t white”, leaves a lot of room - perhaps too much room - for interpretation. And though I’ve never been able to check off the “white” box on an official form, I thought for sure that I didn’t fit under this definition. 

My main reason for believing this term did not apply to me is because I felt it was privileged of me to do so. After all, a considerable amount of Asians, specifically Chinese, are thought of as “comfortable in between,” or even described as “exotic.” Besides a belittling joke or comfortable ignorance of our cultures, a large number of us have never faced the degree of racism that people with darker skin experience on a horrendous basis. This “lack” of prejudice led me to conclude that Asians, or Chinese at the least, probably shouldn’t go addressing themselves as people of color. 

But still, the question nagged at me: are Asians POC? In comparison to automatic biases, lower expectations, and schemes designed to trap groups into generational poverty, Asians have lacked many struggles that people of (darker) color contend against. Only one thing still bothered me - Asians aren’t white. Shouldn’t that baseline qualify us? 

Maybe, in all honesty, this little description wasn’t worth all this mulling over. Did it matter at the end of the day whether I could use this expression? I found that it did matter to me. “Person of color” wasn’t just a term that meant I wasn’t white. To use this term meant that I had even more of a reason to speak up about issues that not everyone would relate to, but provided me with a soapbox for those who do experience these struggles. 

Declaring myself to be a person of color allows me to acknowledge and raise awareness of my rich ancestry. With this as a pulpit, I can boast of the complicated history of my home country China, while at the same time, being a spokesperson for the mistreatment this group of people has faced. These transgressions include the discrimination that led to the creation of Chinatowns or the belittled subject of Chinese underpaid employment and trafficking. From my perspective, being able to use the term POC allows me to speak of the past, its mistakes, and push towards effective change for the future.

I understand that POC is an imperfect term. Overuse threatens it to become useless, while blatant misuse will cause mass misinterpretation. This acronym’s definition has morphed throughout the context and cultural practices of those using this term. For example, in South Africa, a country that experienced the United Kingdom’s colonization, “coloureds” (their version of POC) refers to any one of a local small ethnic group or those who are multiracial. In the United States, this term has become associated with the social justice movement and politics. Activist Loretta Ross even credits the beginnings of the derivative term WOC (Women of Color) to the political National Women's Conference. Here several women of different ethnic backgrounds coined the term to refer to the collaboration of women who shared the struggles of being a “minority.” So, as other terms have become obsolete due to their offensive natures or throughout cultural and linguistic progressions, I am aware that this term and its associations in the future may not align with my own, or your own, personal beliefs. 

However, to share my understanding and [current] opinion, POC as a term should be treated as nothing more than an umbrella to group those with similar experiences. “Person of color” is a valuable adjective not as a credential, not for those who are “worthy” of the term, but as a means to connect with those whose stories reflect our own. With this in mind, my future focuses for this blog are veering slightly from adoption awareness to the thoughts of a transracial adoptee navigating these complex topics. 

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