What to Know About the Term BIPOC

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 25, 2022
4 min read

The term BIPOC has emerged over the last few years as a term often replacing “people of color,” or POC. There’s specific reasoning for this change, as it’s a term meant to bring together people of color while also elevating Black and Indigenous voices.

The term “BIPOC” stands for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. It’s a term used to encompass groups that are not white and, as a result, often are harmed by white supremacy.

The term BIPOC is used as a way to reclaim oppressive labels given to racially marginalized groups. Historically, terms like “colored people” were used to exclude and abuse people who weren’t white and reduced them to objects. In an effort to reclaim identities without the lens of white supremacy, the term “people of color” arose. BIPOC is an updated version of this term.

The BIPOC Project explains why, in some cases, using BIPOC is a better fit than POC: “We use the term BIPOC to highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.” 

While all people of color have been marginalized by white supremacy, Black and Indigenous communities have been particularly abused through slavery and genocide. The term People of Color has a tendency to group all non-white communities together as if they share the same experiences, thus erasing the particular trauma that has been done to Black and Indigenous communities.

If you’re speaking broadly about all people of color, POC is a fine term to use. But if you’re speaking specifically about Black or Indigenous experiences, BIPOC is better suited to center the conversation around those communities. Keep in mind that if you aren’t a member of these communities but are speaking with someone who is, they may have different preferences for self-identification, and those preferences should be respected.

The term BIPOC has become mainstream, thanks in part to the efforts of the BIPOC Project. The BIPOC Project is committed to not just combating white supremacy, but also looking at ways communities of color may use these harms against each other and against themselves. This can make it difficult for communities to form inter-group relationships, despite all of these groups experiencing some degree of marginalization under white supremacy. 

The goal of The BIPOC Project is “to build authentic and lasting solidarity among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), in order to undo Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, dismantle white supremacy and advance racial justice.” They work toward this goal with six solidarity principles:

  • Decolonize stories by sharing and affirming the unique histories of BIPOC communities
  • Consider how each community is differently affected by issues due to their position in the societal racial hierarchy
  • Uplift Native and Black communities by examining the unique injustices of these communities and honoring the legacies of resistance to colonization
  • Bring communities together to create a deeper empathy and understanding for all BIPOC communities
  • Build and invest in intergroup relationships
  • Commit to personal and community healing by practicing care, creating connections, and focusing on healing and transformative justice

America as a whole is suffering a mental health crisis: nearly 53 million people are estimated to have experienced mental illness in 2020. But statistics show that mental health problems hit BIPOC the hardest. 

Mental Illness. The National Institute of Mental Health defines mental illness as “a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder." The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that, out of 52.9 million adults over the age of 18 in the U.S.:

  • 35.8% of mixed-race respondents had a mental illness
  • 22.6% of white respondents had a mental illness
  • 18.4% of Hispanic or Latino respondents had a mental illness
  • 17.3% of Black or African American respondents had a mental illness
  • 13.9% of Asian respondents had a mental illness

The study also found that of these adults, 24.3 million received mental health services, breaking down as:

  • 51% of white respondents
  • 37.1% of Black or African American respondents
  • 35.1% of Hispanic or Latino respondents
  • 20.8% of Asian respondents

Major Depression. The same study found similar patterns in the results for major depressive episodes. Of the estimated 21 million adults who had at least one major depressive episode, it broke down as:

  • 15.9% of mixed-race respondents
  • 9.5% of white respondents
  • 7% of Hispanic or Latino respondents
  • 6% of Black or African American respondents
  • 4.2% of Asian respondents
  • 4.2% of Indigenous or Native respondents

But things change when looking at suicide statistics:

  • Indigenous or Native: 37.4 males per 100,000, 10.8 females per 100,000
  • White: 27 males per 100,000, 6.9 females per 100,000
  • Asian or Pacific Islander: 10.3 males per 100,000, 3.8 females per 100,000
  • Black or African American: 12.9 males per 100,000, 2.9 females per 100,000
  • Hispanic or Latino: 12.3 males per 100,000, 2.8 females per 100,000

The American Psychological Association has found that while the rates of mental disorders are similar between BIPOC and whites, or that BIPOC may deal with fewer mental disorders than whites, mental disorders for BIPOC may be more severe or long-lasting. They’ve found that:

  • BIPOC are often more likely to have a disability as a result of their mental disorder.
  • Depression in BIPOC communities is often more persistent.
  • BIPOC youth with behavioral health problems are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system than white youth.
  • Somewhere between 50% and 75% of youth in the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for having a mental health disorder.
  • A lack of cultural understanding may contribute to the under-diagnosis of mental disorders in BIPOC communities.
  • Indigenous and Native communities report higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence than other groups.

Mental health issues are always multifaceted, but especially so for BIPOC communities as they navigate systems built largely for and by white people. Every July, Mental Health America seeks to help raise awareness of mental health struggles in marginalized communities with BIPOC Mental Health month.