By Courtney Dowe
What is the difference between tokenism and diversity?
I don’t fucking know.
Wait. Did you think that just because I have access to a computer and the ability to type that I would be able to quickly clear that little question up for you? *tsk tsk*
I’m just asking.
For many, diversity and tokenism are impossible to distinguish from one another, but the seemingly subtle difference between them is the difference between genuine progress and a new version of the same old bullshit.
The Urban Dictionary does not have a definition for tokenism, but it does have a definition for Token Negro: “A Black person whose interests and actions are profoundly non-threatening to whites…” This definition is helpful as I recall the countless times I’ve been compelled to say “that which should not be said” in the presence of Whites. Since any word or statement that could potentially make White folks uncomfortable is “that which should not be said”, the stakes are perpetually high when whether or not I speak up from moment to moment can easily determine whether or not I am contributing to my own tokenism.
In my research on the subject (today), I came across an outstanding article by Lauren Lyons entitled “The Curious Conundrum Of The Code-Switching Token Teacher”
. Yes, that title is everything and yes, you do need to stop reading this and go read something by another Black woman right now. Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.
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She basically conveyed the essence of what I am getting at with all of this, so I will just leave you with one more thought.
A real commitment to diversity must include, not only a willingness to be uncomfortable, but a recognition of the need to be. Discomfort should be seen as a positive indicator that the work of cross-cultural understanding may actually be taking place. Otherwise, tokenism will continue to be a much more likely outcome than diversity, whenever those with real differences attempt to come together in spite of them.
—Courtney Dowe lives at the Compersia community in Washington, DC.