One of the most annoying micro aggressions that POCs and other minorities face is being tokenized. You know what I mean. You may have even done it, whether intentionally or not. For example, there’s always that one white guy who is racist in one way or another, but spends time with a black person just often enough to say that he has a black friend. Then, when called out for a racist joke or act, he whips out this “friendship” as “proof” that he isn’t racist. He may even use things his token black friend has said or done as an excuse to partake in racist behavior, such as using the “n” word because his black friend says it.
Sometimes we minorities know that we’re being tokenized but in the interest of not being accused of reverse racism or reverse discrimination, or in the interest of not having our communities vilified, we are nice and patient and put up with this treatment. This is especially true for religious minorities and black people. We often put up with other microaggressions too, all in hopes of preserving our communities’ shaky hold on the bottom rung of society’s ladder.
When you tokenize us, you put us in a disempowering position, forcing us to represent entire populations not only to you, but also to the people you talk to about us. We are used as a free pass for you to say and do despicable things. Our power to speak up for ourselves is stolen. This is dehumanizing. It is ignoring the fact that we are individuals, and above all human beings.
To avoid tokenizing us, there are some useful things to keep in mind. The first is that being friends with a minority does not give you special privileges. It doesn’t mean you can say or do things that would otherwise be considered inappropriate. It doesn’t mean that our friendship makes you “one of us”. You aren’t. If you’re a person of privilege, you are still a person of privilege whether you’re friends with underprivileged people or not.
Another important thing to remember is that we are individuals. It is unfair and dehumanizing to force us to constantly represent our communities. Being friends with a Muslim doesn’t automatically make you a friend of Muslims. There’s a difference. Being reasonably polite to us doesn’t earn you ally brownie points. It just means you’re fulfilling your duty as a decent human being. Being a friend to a minority doesn’t mean you’re special. It means you’re doing an average, normal thing. Don’t let it go to your head. Furthermore, being that we are individuals, if we don’t have patience with your racist or xenophobic BS, that doesn’t mean we or our communities should be vilified as intolerant or “reverse racists”. No. Just like any other individual, we have the right to set and defend personal boundaries in order to care for ourselves. And us doing so doesn’t give you the right to demonize our communities.
Finally, reverse racism, discrimination, and bigotry don’t exist. This is because racism, bigotry, and discrimination are based on systematic oppression, and as marginalized minorities we don’t have the sociopolitical power to carry out mass systematic oppression. We as individuals can be jerks, but being tired of racism and resultantly angry and impatient with privileged people doesn’t mean we’re oppressing you. It means we’ve taken all we can take. It means we have run out of patience with unearned, injust birthright privilege. If you are privileged, us not putting up with your BS does not in any way diminish your privilege.
Hopefully this article will give privileged people some food for thought. Goodness knows privileged people don’t have to do much thinking about these things…. But the rest of live each day forced to think about and face these realities.