Representation vs Tokenism

05 Mar

There’s a new term being bandied about.  And that term is tokenism.  To coin a phrase from the Princess Bride:

Tokenism is essentially what many people of colour went through during the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement (and, similarly, what many women went through).  All white club invites a black person to join their ranks, there, they’ve done their job by allowing black people in their club.  Don’t need to bring in anymore.  That’s what tokenism is.  Doing the bare minimum to say a group is not racist by having their token black friend.

Representation is actually mirroring people in the world.  The world is made up of more than just white, straight, cis, men.  There’s women, gay men, lesbians, black, Asian (of which there is a grand diversity in that group), trans and so on and so on.  And within each group is a grand diversity.  You’ll find men, women, straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender people among those who are African American, for example.

But the group claiming that representation is merely tokenism doesn’t really get it.  People aren’t asking for one or two aspects to be represented in a work of fiction (comics, books, television, movies, and so on).  Because often that creates a stereotype, or that representation is treated like a stereotype.  Here’s a list of good examples of representation:

  • Sam Wilson as Captain America
  • Batwoman, a Jewish lesbian
  • Renee Montoya, a.k.a. the Question, a lesbian woman of colour
  • Misty Knight
  • Spider-Gwen
  • Apollo and Midnighter
  • Connor Hawke, Green Arrow
  • Cass Cain, Black Bat
  • The entire run of Fearless Defenders
  • Justice League United
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Captain Marvel

There’s a lot more than that, but you get the idea.  A few of those characters (see Connor Hawke) don’t exist in the comic book universe they used to anymore.  I was going to include Katar Hol from John Ostrander’s run on Hawkworld, but after I thought about it for a while, that version of Hawkman is a good example of tokenism.  It wasn’t until late in the Hawkworld run that the read learns his mother is a Cherokee woman.  Making Katar, a Thanagarian, half Native American.  Two reasons why this is tokenism.  First, it is never mentioned once in the early run of Hawkworld nor in the three issue prestige format.  Second, the Tribal Nation used was Cherokee, which yes, is a tribe but considering Katar’s father was scouting the northern and midwestern regions of the States, it could have easily have been someone from a Dakota Nation, Huron Nation, Mohawk Nation, Miq’maq Nation or Algonquin Nation.Thirdly, whenever a Native Tribe is mentioned, it’s usually Cherokee or Apache.  This is also commonly used when white people say they have Native American ancestry (yeah, dude, my family was from New York, I was born in New York, and never left New York, but we have Cherokee blood in us…. sure, right, whatever).  In that case, Katar’s a good example of making an after thought tokenism.

Similarly, it’s the same thing by deciding Booster Gold is Canadian, though not nearly as bad.  I mean, it’s possible he could have been from Canada, but of course he’s born in Toronto.  Dear comic book writers who aren’t Canadian, please try and name five other Canadian cities.  If you can’t, go get an atlas and do some research.  It’s equally easy to do this with people of colour, or people with alternative lifestyles, genders, sexualities, and even women.

So don’t go around saying that representation is just tokenism, because it’s not.  It is so not the same thing.  And we don’t need to go over this conversation over and over again like other conversations.  As to bring up another quote from Princess Bride:

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Posted by on March 5, 2015 in Fun, Life, randomness


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