The True Nature of That Gorilla by Rhiain
No, this post isn’t about Harambe. Let’s talk about the real gorilla in the room: tokenism.
A friend of mine lamented about his status as a “Special Token Minority” guest at a con earlier this week. My advice to him was cavalier yet, shall we say, deadly accurate. I’ll confess, dear readers, that I was getting more pissed with every acerbic comment I added to the thread in our discussion about this con. My friend was decidedly unhappy because he’d apparently been promoted by the ConCom to “Special Guest” status due to being non-white.
My advice to him follows, paraphrased (and edited for clean copy – because I needed to emphasize my point without, ya know, all the more colorful language):
What I almost started doing a couple years ago was respond to people like K. Tempest Bradford with my ethnicity, before I realized how much of a trap that was. I wasn’t going to be one of those non-white people who proved herself by validating my opinions with “I’m not white, therefore what I’m about to say has more value than, say, Brad Torgersen, because he’s of paler complexion.”
I caught myself doing it when responding to some SJW last year during the ConCarolinas controversy on John Ringo’s Facebook wall, and that’s when I told myself that I’m not going there. Ever. Again.
But if some idiot at the con wants to make a big deal about you being brown, then I say let them.
And then completely destroy their assumptions so that they never make that mistake again.
At least about you.
Tokenism has existed for at least as long as white privilege, if the zealots are to be believed. It’s so pervasive that non-white content creators, or even those “who pass as white,” are uncomfortable when they’re put on the spot for whatever the outrage du jour is. It’s especially disconcerting when the token minority’s remarks are elevated above anyone else’s views in the room, and anyone else in the room is as white as the good, non-Native senator from Massachusetts, and that token has no experience or expertise regarding the issue at hand.
I do have to wonder if the zealots are really that oblivious to the irony of their own conceits. “Diversity!” they cry. “We must have more of it! Not just in this specific field, no, we must have it in everything!”
The other size of that coin, ya dolts, is tokenism. Head, diversity. Tail, token.
When the means to an end isn’t coming to pass fast enough for them, anybody who passably fits the profile of the “means” will do to achieve that end.
And yet the goalposts change regularly in their hierarchy, contingent on their need for even more Diversity and Inclusion. My non-white friend will no longer be as Diverse as they would like in two months, because he’s “Asian” and therefore too successful and…wait, he’s not Asian. No, he’s actually white. (That would be a surprise to him and me, but humor me here.) The circular justifications continue as they argue about who actually qualifies as a “minority” while dying for a touch of that distant mirage, “Diversity.”
And if you’re one of those people who happens to look non-Caucasian, like me, or like my friend, and you’re wondering if you’ll ever become the Token at your job, or in your circle of friends, or, hell, even in your family, I’ll offer this one little spark of hope:
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Almost nine years ago I was hired by a small(ish) business of about 250 people. To this day I’m one of two people in the main office who isn’t white.
Last summer I attended a con banquet, looked around, and realized I was the only guest seated who wasn’t white.
And I get pissed when I notice details like this, because about four years ago it wasn’t a telltale sign of anything of note. It’s so recent a development to me that it shouldn’t signify anything. It still doesn’t.
Because I refuse to let myself turn into that person.
Understand that tokenism is so widespread that there are certain non-whites who have decided to identify as nothing else, which means others around them walk on eggshells because the signal’s so loud that ignoring it is not an option. I’ve taken note of my skin color in the above situations, and irritably realize that I’ve noticed it, and then moved on because I refused to let it bother me. In heavily blue areas, this unfortunate signal cannot be turned off because you’re not the only one aware of it and then the gorilla manifests itself semi-permanently. I say semi-permanently because it’s such a recent signal that I haven’t given up hope it can go away again. And I should note, too, that refusing to become that Token Minority person irritates the zealots because it trips up their narrative.
This doesn’t make me “race-blind,” like the idiot zealots claim. What does that even mean, anyway? If I’m “race-blind,” does this mean I’ve violated some social norm where I’m supposed to take note of every person’s skin color and/or race during an interaction with that person? Since when did that become a social norm?
I don’t know about you, dear readers, but that’s not a feature that I want normalized in our culture. It’s a bug that needs to be stamped out as quickly as possible, before my children are ingrained with this idea that one of them has more value than the other since she’s not as pale as her sibling.
If we ever reach that point, my friend, the zealots will have much to answer for.