The critical difference between a token and a legitimate representative of minorities, though, is that tokens are all hired or appointed by people who do not win many minority votes (or, in the case of [Herman] Cain, are elevated by white businesspeople). Unlike Senator-designate [Tim] Scott, [Michael] Steele, and Cain, Obama was elected by a coalition that included a large number of people of color. The notion that he represents people of color is not a fantasy presented by the racially dominant majority, driven by stereotypes and typecasting. Instead, it is rooted in the actions of everyday people, who actually voted for him. Another central feature of the dynamic of tokenism is the power disparity between the majority group and the minority individual. As the token is dependent on the majority group for his livelihood, he is required to reproduce the culture of the majority, not change it.
It was always a matter of wanting to say the same thing, but in a different language, in some place different from a classroom setting. I wanted to figure out what this would look like if I were to manifest this. What this would look like if I were to write this. What this would look like if I performed it. What this would look like in all these other capacities.
I genuinely thought this was the voice of lettered people, and that if I didn’t have the voice of lettered people I would never truly be lettered.
Obama himself has become the greatest advertisement for black striving as well as its most dramatic indictment—an example of the widespread desire for African-American success, undercut by the blockaded frustrations of his Presidency. At the end of his press conference announcing [his new] initiative*, Obama offered, as his parting statement, a vow that “we will beat the odds.” Coming from the most powerful black person in the history of this country, those words stung: trying to beat the odds is what you do when you’ve relinquished all hope of turning them in your favor.
*My Brother's Keeper: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/node/279811