When BIPOC becomes camouflage

Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). When I first learned this term, it made me happy. I had accepted, but not fully embraced POC, but finally, Indigenous Peoples were being specifically included in language and in conversations about racially oppressed/marginalized groups. For me, the term “POC” had expanded to be linguistically inclusive of a group often forgotten. That was good and, yes, that was my only thought. The positive.

That was then. This is now.

The more I hear the term, the more it bothers me. Here’s why.

You’ll remember at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, death numbers were presented in the aggregate. We saw the disproportionate impact on distinct communities, particularly Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Indigenous populations, only after examining race and ethnicity. Once the COVID numbers were disaggregated by race, we knew who was being affected most severely, and specific outreach to those communities began.

Now, I believe aggregated BIPOC data is being used as camouflage. Data must be broken down, by race and ethnicity, to reveal racial reality.

Recently, a vendor (in the investment banking industry) with whom a colleague was doing business was asked about hiring people of color. Proudly, the company shared its BIPOC numbers but, when asked, declined to disaggregate them by race, saying such an action was against company policies. Huh? Why would a vendor refuse such a request?

I checked the stats for that industry. According to the first site in my Google search, 69.6% of investment bankers are white, 11.4% each for the Asian and Hispanic/Latinx communities, 5.3% are Black, 2% unknown, and .3% are American Indian or Alaska Native. I suspect that, for the vendor being considered, the Black community, and the Indigenous community also, would not be well-represented, if at all, in their BIPOC data. I believe the vendor declined knowing the details would show a dearth of Black people in upper-level positions.

Believe me, my intent is not to deny opportunities to any non-white community. I celebrate those inroads and appreciate the solidarity of fostering a BIPOC community. PERIOD. Hard stop. I simply want transparency in who is being hired. And, where disproportionality is revealed, like in investment banking, I want us to acknowledge it, examine why it occurs, and address it. We can’t handle a problem until we know it exists. That is the invisibility, or shielding, of racism.

As was done with COVID, we can gain the same clarity by asking employers to break down the details of their BIPOC (or POC) data. And, then we can do what it takes to grow employment opportunities and hire people not represented, or underrepresented, within those industries.

In the meantime, let’s not be lenient on employers who won’t disaggregate data. Take your business somewhere else.