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I've personally been using the term people of color since the mid 90's.
I, I was not. But Cherine, I mean, we use it all the time on the like. Yes, all the time.
You see women, PEOC, media, people of color, people of color for the pie.
When women posse's people of color feel in a white supremacist society being a Republican and apos people of color.
A world tour of the experience. But after the protest for Black Lives reignited this past spring, I saw a lot of people online saying they were over it on Twitter and people's iji stories. People were saying, stop calling me PEOC black folks in particular. I saw a lot of people saying, just please call me black, black. If you black, black, do not call me a person of color.
And all this woke me up to the fact that people of color is this term that I use. It's a term that we say, like you said, a lot. A lot. A lot. A lot. But it's a phrase that I haven't really given that much thought to.
But that's changed. Mm hmm. So on this week's episode, what do we mean when we say people of color? OK. Why do some of us identify with that term and why does it annoy so many others? Hmm.
Is it time to say, all right, IP to be OK? And if so, is B I PEOC the new kid on the block?
I think you should have said is BIPAC the new kid on the block just because, you know, romance with bars, however the hell you're supposed to say, we're going to get into all that too.
OK, just in case you're new here, I'm Shereen Marisol Merici.
I'm Gene Demby and this is Coatbridge from NPR News.
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Casey grants dog and connect with the foundation on Twitter at Casey Grants and on Facebook. I don't hate the term p.l.c.. I think it's fine, I really find it useful, you know, whatever.
I don't think anyone categorization of people will ever be perfect.
Yeah. Oh, well, if someone says there's something better, then I'll probably use that ice cream.
Hmm. So when you hear people of color, what does that phrase mean to you?
I'm curious, huh? Are you trying to put me on the spot?
Look, if you would have asked me this question a couple of months ago before I embarked on this journey, I probably would have said the bosses are black people, Native Americans and Latinos, particularly those of Mexican origin, because one could argue that these three groups have the longest history of being racialized here in the United States.
Oh, OK. So obviously, you leave some folks out.
No, no, no. Hear me out. Like I was saying, I would have said those are the oggi groups. But now when we say posse, we include Asians of all backgrounds, Pacific Islanders, Arab, Middle Eastern and North African people, especially those who are Muslim. Well, that combination of people, I'm curious, they've all been denied membership to the whites only club.
They have been others made to feel perpetually foreign, not American, because and we've talked about this being American is so often used as shorthand for white and Christian.
I Lokey language is a little bit of an obsession for us on the West Coast, which obviously is a term from sociolinguistics, as you probably know, we have a series, EKOS, which called Word Watch, where we take words and we take phrases in the popular discourse within underexploited and sometimes really fraught racial history to them. Yeah. You know, outside agitator in Spain, that was one cheeriness, gung ho guru.
And when we were doing the research for these word watches, the first call we make, not always, but one of the first calls we make is usually to a linguist because, you know.
Words, my name is John McWhorter, I teach linguistics at Columbia University, I am familiar with that voice.
John McWhorter has known for a lot of things, but relevant to our interests.
He hosts the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley.
This is true. And John identifies as black. And he told me he rarely, if ever, calls himself a person of color.
But here's his breakdown of the term posse, formerly in terms of the linguistic meaning, somebody who is of a color in terms of melanin, if we think of white people as embodying the absence of color, if we must. So the idea is to have a term for people who aren't white. Now, that's the linguist in me, I think the sociologist in me. Despite that, I have no training in the subject. But the human being walking around in me says that when we talk of people of color, we also mean people who are socially subordinate to whites as well.
That's usually the reason that one is using the term.
All the dictionary definitions for people of color that I found basically say a person who is not white. But if, like John says, there's another unifier and that's the social subordination of certain groups, then he says people of color are black, Latino, Native American invasion. And he adds, and again, John is not a sociologist, but he adds that some groups of Asians endure more discrimination than others. So those groups are probably the best fit.
But as you can see, the answer is sloppy because the term has been around for a while. Race doesn't make any sense.
And because it's so difficult to work out which subjugated groups belong under the people of color, umbrella and which don't, John prefers to use non-white.
When I write, that's how I do it. If I'm trying to say, this is how you might feel if you are not one of the white people among us, then I just say non-white and leupp everybody under there, because then there is no even suggestion that I'm saying that all of these people are alike in some way. I'm just saying you're not white. And so if anybody is quote unquote, all alike, it's the whites. And then there are all these other people.
Gene, what do you think of non-white?
Oh, I hate it, I hate it. Oh, so suppose you and me and Leia and Kumari are at some weird speakeasy place in Los Angeles. We're all in a room.
We're kicking it, you know. I mean, we're for nonwhites, really. That's what we doing.
You a quartet of minorities. How about that? Oh, I just I hate I hate it. Even minority. Like, it doesn't make sense when we're talking about, like, in what context are we the numerical minorities, if it's just the four of us in the room where the mudroom not globally. True, and certainly not even like if you were in D.C., you brown people would not in with us. Yeah. If we're in L.A. when people are certainly not in the minority.
So like what? It doesn't even make sense to talk about ourselves in relation to each other, in relation to whiteness when nobody in this space was talking about is white and we make up the majority of people in the space. You know what I mean?
I do know what you mean. And to echo John's point, this is all sloppy and messy because race doesn't make any sense and there doesn't seem to be a clear line delineating who is or isn't Apsey. I spoke with two people who wrote an article addressing a question they hear all the time.
Gene Lampoon, co-author of Our Asian-Americans White or People of Color and Naseeb Bingol.
Are Asian-Americans White or People of Color?
Co-author Y.A. Like a Cousin Morris. I'm very curious about what Oleanna to see are in this piece.
Well, we answer a flip side of the coin question, which is, are Asian-Americans white very quickly? And we say absolutely not. Right.
That's okay. And again, and in the article on who calls herself a second generation Hong Kong American and Naseeb, who calls herself a second generation queer Punjabi American, they both point to a.. Asian racism throughout American history, specifically laws that banned immigration and citizenship for people from Asia between 1882 and 1965.
We've to Doug digged. We've plumbed.
We've dug in. We have dug into the Chinese Exclusion Act more than a few times, of course, which we thought about how you can't really understand more recent discrimination against Asian-American people. You know, the surge of hate crimes against Asian-Americans during the Covais pandemic. The president calling the virus khong flu. All of those things are sort of based on this codified anti-immigrant sentiment in American history. So obviously, Asian-Americans do not occupy the same space in the social hierarchy as white people.
So ergo, people of color.
Well, that is the question. And Rooyen says that's a much more complicated answer than whether or not Asian-Americans are not white, because it really depends on how you define and conceptualize what it means to be people of color.
The history of the term is very much in similar ways to the term Asian-American comes out of political struggle and resistance to white supremacy.
Nassif says that's the same for women of color. There's a history of political struggle that you have to understand. She takes me back to 1977, which was a really good year, and I'm not going to tell you why. But we're we're back to 1977 in Houston, Texas. Thousands of women are gathered to create a document that's going to spotlight gender issues that are being ignored.
Women of color term in the US came out of the 1977 International Women's Year conference initiated by President Jimmy Carter's administration. And so without knowing that particular history removed 30, 40 years later, it just seems like a popular buzzword.
Nasib says that at that conference in Houston, Texas, only a couple of pages of the couple hundred page document that was going to make its way back to President Carter's desk focused on issues specific to women who weren't white.
So black women got together as their want to do.
Yep, we've talked about this on the show.
Black women got together and pushed to change that and the other, quote unquote, minority women, as they would have been called back then.
They wanted their issues addressed, too. So they all created a coalition to help make that happen.
Here's the question again. If we're going to be brought together, there has to be a reason, not just like, look, there are no white people here think that it feels bizarre.
So any one of us claiming this identity, people of color, regardless of our racial background, should be thinking about it proactively. Like, are you just saying you're not white or are you saying more than that? Here's naseeb again. Why do we adopt the term? Identify with people of color, women of color, because I found a lot of my own learning in spaces where women of color were gathering for the first time, I felt like whiteness wasn't being centered.
I didn't have to educate white folks. I was being educated. I was having conversations around colorism, anti blackness and women of color spaces that I was never afforded, you know, whether it was a conversation directed outwards to an external gaze. So, yeah, I think for me it's a place where I found belonging, but I've also found a challenge and growth. So what I'm hearing is that, OK, people of color, PEOC for Orien in a sea, they were this piece is actually just not like a one to one substitution for non-white.
It's more nuance than that.
That's my understanding that if you're claiming a the identity, you're saying that you and all these other non-white folks are doing more than sitting around not being white. You're fighting for equity in a society that favors whiteness. It's a political identity.
Gotcha. Butchering as we know. The thing with language is that, you know, some term may have been created with the best of intentions, but it can morph into something that means something completely different. Yes.
And many of the people I talk to you for this episode, including Orianna Naseeb, told me that's definitely happened with people of color.
We asked our listeners to tell us what they thought of the label possie. And here's one from Ameritech called her that illustrates just one of the problems with it.
I thought the term posse was quite empowering until I had to sit at a table with a bunch of white teachers and discuss how to teach the novel The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. I'm a South Asian woman. I'm not black. But at the end of the meeting, I remember one of the teachers saying, Great, we can teach this novel now because we have our posse.
Oh, that ain't it. OK, so for those of you who aren't familiar with the hate you give, the central storyline in that novel is that a black teenager sees her friend, who is also black, gets shot and killed by the police. Is that something any old brown person can identify with or speak to, let alone teach? Because this book is specifically about anti blackness.
Enter stage left by PEOC.
I have no idea how to say be IPSC. I've heard it pronounced BIPAC like Tupac, but I just woke up one day and the whole Internet was using it.
I mean, it does sound like, you know, in this genre of fiction featuring Mr. Shakoor anyway, more on biopsy after the break.
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Gene Sherene, Code Switch. Hi, my name is Javier and I'm 35. I like possie because it evokes an image of us, unlike the terms nonwhite or minority, where whiteness is front and center. I also like BIPAC because I can't read the word without saying black indigenous in my mind and it feels good to bring that representation. All right, the time has come to talk about the EPOXI, or as my friend Ahsha called it in a recent group text exchange bio pic, she claims that was a typo.
But regardless, this is how the exchange went. Who's black? Texted.
I need some help.
What is biopic Joel, who identifies as black and white, replied black, comma, indigenous, comma, person of color, black and indigenous, designated separately because of their particular histories and oppression.
Rossio, who's Mexican, was next, had to look that up about a month ago. I kept reading it as bisexual people of color and I was like, That can't be right. Thinking hard emoji laugh out loud emoji hand on favorite emoji, I should say.
We're recording this like the day after by visibility day. It could be bisexual people of color. True. They're out there. They're proud. I'm sure a lot of you out there have been trying to figure out what this acronym means. I've had a bunch of conversations with my friend Hana, who is a journalist at The Atlantic about some of the pictures we've gotten over the summer. We exchanged pictures that we get email from publicists and people with bipolar or biopunk in the subject line.
Just tell you, if you tell me I want to hear some of these, OK? One BIPAC musician injects healing in Eastern flavor into Western music, using off the beaten path instruments, first by POCs, first by POCs.
Woman Forehands launch of Academy for Women to enter Adult Beverage World IPAC chef Nick launches organic simple syrup line.
What is Biopunk modifying in Firefox?
Woman Yeah, I was agnostic on Biopunk before then, but this is how people using our parts of it hate it.
It's my mortal enemy.
For me it's like, why, why, why are we adding yet another word that is grouping us all together but then separating some of us out?
Hmm. I feel like if we want to be specific, we should be specific, say black, Mexican, Cherokee, etc.. You know what I'm saying? Right. BIPAC just feels like it's trying to be specific and broad all at the same time. And that is just not working for me.
So I ask people to help me understand why it's working for them.
Has Ché in order to achieve growth? Hi there. My name is Amber and I just said hello and Muscogee. I am an Afro Indigenous woman, so I identify as a black woman, an African-American woman and also a Native American woman. I am Muscogee Creek.
I'm also a Shanae Yuchi Quapaw and Cherokee descent.
Amber Starks goes by Melanin Muskogee on IGY Isotope Handle, by the way. I agree.
And I bring up our IG because social media is really where she does a lot of her learning and educating others.
I think a lot of what I do online and in real life, or at least I try in real life to have discussions around after indigeneity or black and native identity. I like to talk a lot. And so my platform is kind of giving me that space to like talk about these issues that I'm often still learning myself because, you know, I'm so reconnecting as a native woman to my tribe and my people and my language. And I always like to say I'm not the leader in any revolution.
I'm just an active participant. That's pretty much me.
And Amber likes and uses the term BIPAC because it spotlights both black and indigenous people.
Indigenous people are always a like often a race, like people don't even think we exist anymore. So I think Sain Indigenous requires you to see indigenous people and saying Black requires you to hold white supremacy accountable for putting black folks on the bottom. We have to be honest that there is a hierarchy like who is more proximate to whiteness and who isn't. All right.
So to Amber, the BEA in BIPAC, I guess I'm getting used to saying that is a recognition of black people's place at the bottom of America's racial hierarchy. We talk about this all the time on Code Switch, black people over index on all the damage that white supremacy and racism do out in America. Everybody else kind of gets slotted in above us. They trying to get in when they fit in relative to black people, right and right. I for indigenous has been separated out and highlighted because we rarely hear about indigenous and Native American experiences when we're discussing issues that affect people of color and Native Americans also over index on all the damage that white supremacy and racism so loud.
So, yeah, that's that's my understanding of what I'm hearing, too, although I can't help but think, you know, where does that leave?
A big chunk of Latinos who may not identify as black or native, but who have also endured racism and discrimination, you know, the history of racism and oppression for certain Latino groups in this country can be traced to the very founding of this country. We're talking about Manifest Destiny and all of that.
And, of course, there are Afro Latinos and of course, they're indigenous Latinos.
That is a given.
But the reality is there are also a hell of a lot of Latino people who don't identify as black or indigenous, even though other people might see them as such, because a lot of Latinos were taught that they were mestizos, you know, a mixture of black and indigenous and white.
And as we talked about on a recent episode about Puerto Ricans and race on the census, that was done deliberately, it was done on purpose to arrest that African and native ancestry. Exactly.
So maybe, just maybe, we should add an L to this new acronym, blackpoll block that I can.
This is my campaign for a bill. And how do Asians feel if they're not in Bill Pocket?
And this is where I'm like, is this liberal guy like but then who is then who are the other PEOC? Then maybe we should be saying we're bla bla bla bla.
Oh, I like that.
I'm thinking a good number of our listeners are Wisner's Wittner. I'm thinking Wisner's bla bla bla.
OK, I, I'm thinking, my hunch is that a good number of our listeners, especially white listeners a while confused right now they're like, wait a second.
Should I call you all biopunk. Should I call you PEOC. Like how, how do I navigate all of that. The new language and terminology. And there's a feeling of insecurity and discomfort around it and nerves.
And what I would say is like if you're in conversation with a BIPAC or a person of color, you should just ask them how they identify, like how do you like what you know? I think especially with interpersonal relationships, you should already have done that anyway. I think if you're speaking in general, you can say, from my current understanding, people are saying, BIPAC, are people of color like prefacing it with like I'm not the expert, I don't know.
But this is what I've heard being used.
And I think it's OK that, you know, black, brown, indigenous, Latino people of color don't quite have it figured out. All I know is I'm running I'm running away from this system because this is not OK. This is traumatizing. We don't deserve this.
Hello, my name is Ryan, I'm 28 and I'm black. I recently made the decision to remove the term posse by posse, person of color, black and brown, a term I feel we often use as one word from my vocabulary. I long for the solidarity of those terms, but I'm especially recommitting to saying black when I mean black.
Hey, this is Maricela twenty nine. I am like the next Puerto Rican and Colombian and I like the term spoken by BIPAC, as I call them, to mean solidarity among our collective experiences as non-white, especially our experiences as non-white in the United States. There's obviously a lot of variation within those experiences. I just wish these terms were used more often to mean this coalition and not as a euphemism, like the way diverse is often used, especially by people, mostly white people who don't want to say black.
Hi, I'm Lauren.
I'm twenty nine. No, I don't like the term people of color or by p.l.c., I don't even know where that came from, but I just feel like it erases people's races like I'm black and I just feel like it's just an excuse for people to not want to say black people.
Yes, black people are the ones that are affected. Like what? No, I it.
Hi, Sharon. I'm checking on you for a quick look. We've had this we're this far into this conversation. Where are you with all this right now? Your team, Belbek, right when we left the mailbox.
Uh, no, I'm not. I'm team be specific.
It's always best to be clear about who and what you're talking about. Right. So same people of color or, you know, in certain and or color, journalists of color, musicians of color, creed as a color is often using these ways that might be meant to obscure and maybe intentionally. I remember reading that last year, Harvard University, you know, most prestigious university in the country, blah, blah, blah, blah, had its first freshman class that was majority students of color.
And then people are really excited. But then it's like, well, is Harvard suddenly admitting far more black and Latino and native students or. Are we talking about Asian-American students who've long had a prominent presence on Harvard University's campus and who have very different sets of concerns when it comes to representation at schools like Harvard? Because that seems like a really important distinction for us to make about students of color.
That is a good point. But I am not ready to do away with these umbrella labels like PEOC or even BIPAC altogether, because a big takeaway for me and reporting all this out is that organizers and activists and thought leaders are often the ones who have helped create and popularized these terms. And to do a call back to John and Acebes point, there was a really good reason for grouping people together.
We talked on the show a lot about, you know, groups like Third World Coalition. There's also, you know, the Rainbow Coalition. Those groups came out of the civil rights struggle when organizers went activists were forming these cross racial alliances that were meant to advocate for social justice, for racial justice.
And those leaders they never met for those identifiers to be the end all. Be all. It's not like you give up saying black.
If you also say you are a person of color or if you say you're part of the Rainbow Coalition there, context specific.
So I just thought it was really important to run by POC by an organizer.
My name is Monica Ramutis and I am the founder and president of Justice for Migrant Women.
And my pronouns are she her, hers a Monica told me organizing is always a challenge. It's even harder when you're trying to organize across race and class and even more difficult if people are feeling erased and ignored for whatever reason. And knowing that, Monica says if BIPAC is the term that makes people feel sene, don't count it out.
But how do you get people on board who, as we just heard, aren't with it?
I could say to somebody, I understand that you don't want to use BIPAC, but the reason it's important for us to make sure that we name black indigenous people is because X, Y, Z. So I just think as an organizer, I'm constantly an educator, too. If all I can do in this world is help people understand why we're using the terms that we're using and why it's important to be accepting of how other people identify themselves, even if we ourselves don't feel comfortable using that.
I hope that that's a contribution. But I also think we shouldn't be like forcing things down people's throats, because if we try to force something down people's throat, like a label or a name or an identifier, then ultimately it could result in something that I think would be much worse for all of us, which is putting even more dividers between us.
When do you think that umbrella term people of color lost power? What was it that made people feel like this is not the right word for us?
Yeah, I don't know that it lost its power. I mean, what I experienced and really when I started to hear more people use BIPAC as the terminology was really over the summer when people were talking about racial discrimination and the fact that historically black people have been left out and left behind in lots of ways, you know, and then people said, yes, but it's also it's black people, but it's also indigenous people and indigenous people who were the first owners of this land, you know?
And so to me, that terminology really became more emergent over the summer months. And I think now people are are trying it on and, you know, who knows, maybe in a couple of years will decide that it's something different. Just like right now people are really struggling with like to use that Dynex or not. But I feel like for right now, it's worth us experimenting with this terminology. If there's the possibility of bringing us closer together for the purposes of building power.
Who. All right, Jean, we're coming to the end of this episode, and I wanted to end things with someone who spent a lot of time studying what affect a term like Possie or Bearpark has on the behavior of people who use it as one of their self identifiers.
It wouldn't be a code switch episode if we didn't have, you know, a couple social scientists sprinkled throughout.
And that is true. And in this case, a political psychologist.
My name is a friend, Petis.
I'm full professor of political science and psychology at UCLA and Friends got a forthcoming book called Diversity's Child The Political Roots and Actions of People of Color.
Diversity. Child, you say? Yes, I we in fact, ready for that jelly?
I'm not quite sure. Anyway, a friend told me the thing that Monica said about how these labels can help people feel connected and how they can help build power.
That's 100 percent true.
Part of the power of any group that influences our social or political behavior has to do with the fact that it homogenizes all of those differences. And that allows an individual member to essentially say, I am part of this week by simplifying things and you're better able to see yourself reflected in the larger group.
So this homogenisation that happens, that people seem to be a little bit upset about this erasure, it happens with all group labels black, Asian, Latino, Native American, et cetera, et cetera. They all homogenise our differences and our unique experiences.
And then we behave in ways that benefit the group, regardless of what those differences are. But differences, if certain members of the group feel like their issues are ignored or they're being soft pedaled for the sake of the larger group, things can change.
Now, in the case of such a huge and unwieldy group identifier as people of color or Bearpark or Bill POC, everyone wanted to know if that was still the case.
So he conducted an experiment.
So the experiment, I had three samples black adults, Asian adults, Latino adults, and within each sample they were all randomly assigned to one of two conditions in both conditions. They all read the same census information, talking about the growth demographically of people of color in the first condition. That information was followed by sort of a message that said, look, there's diversity in these communities, but they all have one thing in common, and that's that they shared the sort end of the stick relative to whites in the second condition, same exact census information, except that now the message is at the end of the day, you really can't compare the black experience and the legacies of slavery with the Latino and Asian experience and immigration.
So the first group in the experiment is getting some messaging that says posse's are pretty much all apples. And the second group is getting a message that says posse's are apples and oranges. OK, so overnutrition, Firebrace, of what happened next.
Effron had all his posse's answer, a series of questions about political issues that are often seen as unique to different groups, whether or not they are. So, for example, he asked them about their support for Black Lives Matter and then he asked them about their support for DACA.
When we affirm the parallel experiences that unify the group, you see that higher levels of of identifying as a person of color lead you to be more supportive of black lives matter, more supportive of dakka, irrespective of whether you're black or Latino. But if I just get you in that state of mind where I say, hey, your group is losing out subjectively because it's giving up a lot of its uniqueness for the sake of the larger group, then support for these kinds of things ends up falling apart and being scattered all over the place.
That is really fascinating. I agree. And I guess that sort of Monika's project. Right, trying to recreate those conditions, that understanding in the real world. Mm hmm.
And, you know, you can use possie or you can try and BIPAC. Never.
OK, so what is Effron think about BIPAC?
Well, the vast majority of the people of color Effron surveyed said that black people were the best representatives and ambassadors for the term people of color.
When you say the best representatives are ambassadors, you mean they are who most people think of as people of color. Gotcha. Yes. So it makes sense to him that people might want to separate out the bee. Basically, he thinks it's just a different acronym for the same umbrella group Pozzi BIPAC. Pretty much the same. Not that controversial. Gotcha. Another thing we should try to remember is that all this nomenclature is probably going to change again, is going to keep shifting in linguistics.
There is this idea called peroration, and we've talked about it before. Some people call it the euphemism treadmill. So let's say there's some group that's being referred to, you know, whoever we're talking about. And there are negative attitudes toward that group we're talking about. Sooner or later, whatever language we use to describe that group is going to become irritated by those negative attitudes toward that group. And so the word is going to become negative, maybe even an insult.
So we need a new word. So like Oriental, white or colored or Negro, those are all proper terms at some point. And now they might get punched in the face through. The thing that we've got to remember is that, like, the terminology can only stay ahead of the negative attitudes for so long. The problem is not the language that we used to, like, refer to people. The problem is the attitudes that we have toward the people that we're referring to.
So all these words are going to keep shifting as we try to address the attitudes themselves. But also people just have more room for fuller self definition.
I think that is a really good point. And my final takeaway from all this is that it's a radical act to come together in a society where structures have been built to keep us apart and whatever we decide to call that coalition, that's no easy feat.
All right, so that's our show. If you don't already subscribe, I mean, what are you doing with your life? Get yourself together. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at NPR Code Switch and sign up for our weekly newsletter at NPR Eglash newsletters. This episode was produced by Kumara Devarajan and Alissa Zhang Perry with a little help for me. It was edited by Leah Daniella Big thanks to Rebecca Nagle for your help on this episode and to all of our listeners who sent in voicemails with thoughts on the subject.
And of course, we would be remiss if we did not shut out the rest of the Code Switch Squadron. Karen Grigsby Bates just khong. Natalie Escobar, Steve Drummond and Ellie Johnson. Our intern is Elizabeth Haza. I'm Gene Demby. And I'm Shereen Marisol Merici Bezier piece. There are these networks of staunchly pro-gun groups on Facebook. And one of them is run by these three brothers, the door brothers. It turns out they don't just do guns.
The door family name has been attached to other causes.
Their goal is to eliminate public education and to replace it with Christian schooling.
The roots of the door family on the No Compromise podcast from NPR.