Tokenism, Black America and the Downside of Diversity

Diversity is something we at MMXLII want everyone to embrace and utilize the differences between us to educate ourselves on what makes all of our cultures great, and how sharing this helps us move forward as a society. We came across an article today that touches on the other side of diversity in America, or rather a false sense of it at times. This article raised an eyebrow at some things we may not have thought about before, such as when diversity is based upon a “need” and not a want.

The article deals with the idea of tokenism and the idea of someone allowing diversity as more of a way to avoid a lawsuit than a celebration of various types of people. Tokenism usually gives a negative connotation under the thought that someone is just in a position because they need to have a black person, or an Asian, etc., With that in mind, people feel that these positions are possibly not being filled by a qualified candidate and someone was potentially  overlooked to satisfy a numbers or percentage quota. This has been the basis of the counter argument against affirmative action for years. Those who support affirmative action however say the system gives a level playing field and closes the gap.

Tokenism is a buzzword that evokes a lot of emotion from all sides. Few like feeling as if their position is a product of top-down coercion (isn’t enforcement of any law coercion?). And management isn’t fond of losing out on a “better” worker to satisfy an anti-discrimination law. So in the name of progress, “concessions” are made and doors are widened.

An interesting part about the article is the writer uses Jackie Robinson to preface it. Because of “tokenism”, Jackie Robinson was given an opportunity to open a door for blacks in America. Sixty six years ago today, Jackie Robinson became the first black person to join the Major Leagues. Because of a tokenism based thought, people figured it was time to let a black guy in the Major Leagues. This wasn’t a bad thing in after all because Robinson used this opportunity to elevate other blacks and pave the way for future black players. The writer Zettler Clay looks to point out that even though the structure of tokenism isn’t perfect and gives a false sense of progress, people have used it to help provide others with these same opportunities or more.

From that standpoint Clay makes a great point. What made Jackie Robinson so much more celebrated beyond being “the first black” guy in Major League Baseball was he used this opportunity to represent those like him and create more opportunities as opposed to holding himself above those who didn’t get his same chance.

As demographics continue to shift and change, there is a chance that tokenism could take on a new meaning or vanish altogether. Whichever way it goes, it’s important for us to realize how to truly work towards diversity and equality. As we shift into an age with no real minority/majority, do you think tokenism will continue to exist or will it become history just as the Jackie Robinson story has become? Will affirmative action be something everyone will eventually get behind or will everyone see less of a need for it? Or will affirmative action perhaps flip-flop in regards to what “groups” will deem it necessary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

To ready Zettler Clay’s article click here.

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