[OJ Simpson] really did create this paradigm that begat Michael Jordan, who begat Tiger Woods ... He created this idea of, "I'm going to protect mine, I'm all about me. I'm all about furthering my image to make myself palatable to everyone in America -- to be safe."
An important attribute of tokenism is that many who acquiesce to it have a sincere wish that the issue in question could be addressed at a deeper level. They recognize the token for what it is, but they reassure themselves with the thought that at least it’s a first step in the right direction – that it’s “better than nothing.”
I believe, on the contrary, that this very predisposition is what makes tokenism worse than nothing – a step backward from goals that are widely desired. The token itself might be harmless or even positive. What makes it insidious is its framing, or the larger context in which it is put forward.
The image of a waterfall, a heron, or a sunset may remind us that nature offers us a wealth of inimitable wonder. Painted onto the back of an SUV, however, it’s the cynical expression of a posture in which everything in the universe has been tamed, packaged, and brought under control.
While most black people are offended by a white person saying “You’re different from other black people,” there’s always a minority of black people who actually enjoy hearing these words, who like feeling they are “different” from other black people because they have issues with black people, or even with being black themselves. Perhaps they felt they didn’t fit in very well or that old chestnut of being labeled as a “nerd” or accused of “acting white,” a common experience for certain pockets of those brought up in the black middleclass. But rather than seeing this for what it was – immaturity on the part of your peers and that they were the issue, not the entirety of the black race – they doubled down on it being black people’s fault for “rejecting” them. And so they bought into the beliefs that all black people are intolerant or ignorant or close-minded or uneducated. And then, by pre-rejecting black people before they could reject them, they over-compensated with desperately seeking the approval of white people. I’ve seen it happen. And it’s always disappointing because it ignores the reality that often being a token doesn’t mean that you’re “better” than other black people. It just means they found one acceptable black person then stopped looking. That they don’t actually really care about finding qualified people, that it’s about superficial nods to diversity while reinforcing the status quo where a white person can be average for a position, but a black person must be exceptional. Where George W. Bush could simply be a guy you wanted to have a beer with, but Barack Obama needed to be the second coming.