Representatives vs. Tokens

In thinking about tokenism, it occurs to me that this stems from our idea that one person can serve as a representative for a huge population of others like them. We elect representatives and those representatives are supposed to be capable of serving the needs of all their constituents. Because they were put into office by a majority, their actions are suppose to reflect everyone. (As though majority interests reflect everyone anyway.)

The same seems to go for academic conferences and social groups and community blogs and otherwise "diverse" groups. It happens all the time and is endlessly annoying for members of minority groups: one black person or one queer person or one woman or one trans person etc is invited to sit on a panel or speak at an event or participate in a group with the expectation that they'll be able to "cover" any issues pertaining to the minority they're a part of.

Race activists have been writing about tokenism for a long time. They explain that it's a problem because one black person (or latino or muslim or asian etc) cannot speak to the experiences of every person of their race. There is diversity within minority groups, and tokenism ignores this. It allows majority groups to feel that they're being inclusive when really they're just continuing to oppress most minority voices and only allowing one (usually one that's supportive of the group's interests) to come through.

I think this says something about the idea of representation in general. It is pretty foolish to think that any single person can accurately represent the interests of a diverse group of constituents. I don't think we should dismantle our government; theoretically I like the idea, but I don't have any better solutions so I just try and work within the system. I do think, though, that we should try to be more aware of the fact that representatives really don't represent. It's more than a little bullshit.


On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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