Politics of Tokenism
|Me finding out about tokenism the hard way circa 1989.|
Part 2 of 3
Token: 4. One that represents a group, as an employee whose presence is used to deflect from the employer criticism or accusations of discrimination. (from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/token)
|Me in my late teens - pimply and naive|
|Makode Aj Linde and his artwork|
I couldn't have said that any better. Now, let me explain why this is an example of tokenism: here, the performance artist is the only person of African heritage present. His Afro-Swedish heritage has been repeatedly bought up in order to deflect criticism, and other black people who disagree with his actions or the actions of the Minister of Culture are attacked as "ignorant". This is the absolute definition of tokenism - a situation where a single member of a minority is propped up in order to deflect criticism by other members of that minority group.
Here is another definition:
'In the arts, employment, and politics, tokenism is a policy or practice of limited inclusion or artistic and/or political representation of members of a traditionally marginalized group, usually creating a false appearance of inclusive practices rather than discrimination. (from the Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokenism)
Sometimes the position of tokenism is like the position that early African American actors were in in the butt-of-joke comedies they were forced to accept in order to break down doors. It's hard to think of people who lower themselves as breaking down doors, but they are part of a continuum of milestones. Every token doesn't break down any doors, though. If you have no knowledge of the community you say you represent, you can wind up doing something as grotesquely inappropriate as what Makode Aj Linde did. I'm going to post it here with a Trigger Warning for PTSD because frankly, I'm personally categorizing it among things I wish I could unsee... and if you're a woman like myself who has had any sort of issues with the girl parts, this video of the black skinned cake with the blood-red insides being carefully incised from the genital area by the smiling Swedish Minister of Culture will probably traumatize you.
If you want to know what the artist has to say... this is a very good video by CNN explaining both the outrage over the piece and Linde's own reasoning behind doing it from his personal perspective:
|Me and my mom, Carolyn|
|President of the United States, Obama|
|Me when I was 6 days old and protected by ParentGate(TM)|
|Me and Scott in the safe Carson, California of the 70s|
|Me in the late 80s getting schooled on tokenism|
|Me being Repair Manager|
But there is a line... that has to do with whether or not you intend to represent for your community - if you will not represent, how can you kick down any doors? The line is essentially defined by how well you understand your relationship to the community. If you don't understand your community, you can't represent it. The secret to creating a token is to keep him or her isolated from his or her community, so that this person is just standing up there like an idiot being someone a bigot can point to and say "but I have a black friend," or, "my black friend said it's okay to do this so how can say it is bigoted?" Essentially, tokenism is like The Highlander: there can be only one.Being light skinned or even mixed doesn't mean you can't represent for a community. Malcolm X chose to represent his community and didn't let having white blood stop him. When I first came to San Francisco, I had a book in my pocket which was Aldus Huxley's "Malcolm X" and I read it, gaining wisdom and strength I would need through the years.
Now some things have changed but everything has not. Tell your children to keep their eyes open.