A Short Reflection On Tokenism

Token_Black2It’s not something everyone has to worry about. But it is something that people who work in white or mostly-white spaces have to be concerned with. I am (apparently) bold enough to think that I deserve to hold this space. That in fact, and much more than that, I have scaled mountains, journeyed through valleys and walked over hills to get to where I am. Which is not to say that I have not been helped along the way – I have. It is to say that I am capable of much more than is often assumed.

But when you are the “only” (or one of “the only”) in an all-white space your journey becomes lost in the supposedly benevolent hand of the institution that got you there. Miraculously, the very thing that made it so difficult for you to get here is thought to be the very thing that gave you a “leg up.”

So, the “token” begins to be seen by the larger white collective as a “special case” granted access to the “inside.” In a great reversal, the token becomes what they are not: absolutely privileged. With a red carpet rolled out before them, and opportunities at every side to participate, contribute, and add their voice to the discussion. And how some in the token’s community begins to perceive them, by virtue of the space(s) they now inhabit, is even more curious. They are thought not to be persons empowered to stand in for the un and underrepresented, but “used” by “the Man.” A tool in the Master’s Hand, fashioned to do the work of His bidding.

As though we have no agenda of our own. As though the steps we took to get here were were not made before we became a memory in your mind’s eye. Disruption was always the point. If you would have asked I would have told. I never came to be comfortable – most of the time I am not – but to cause discomfort and make them squirm in the things they do not know. I know what they say about us when we are not in the room. But when we sit amongst them, they fall silent.

A token is a key into another dimension. If you would have asked, she would have told.

– T. M. G.

Image Credit: http://southpark.wikia.com/wiki/Token_Black