Even in 2023, tokenism remains a problem, especially in the corporate and political arenas.
Tokenism is the practice of making only a symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups. It is the effort to include a token individual in work, school, or the political arena to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity (racial, religious, sexual, etc.).
Political tokenism happens when a political party promotes candidates from under-represented groups in elections. The party has very little chance of winning.
In the corporate arena, tokenism includes hiring a person who belongs to a minority group only to prevent public criticism.
Here are 10 superior quotes on corporate and political tokenism: What is it, and when does it fit?
In a recent discussion between Black journalists, the group noted the lack of diversity in broadcast newsrooms across the country and how tokenism plays in how Black journalists are hired and what the viewing public sees.
“There’s one (Black person) in each department–one anchor, one reporter, one meteorologist, one digital,” says one Black journalist in the interview that was posted on YouTube by the 9NEWS channel on Feb. 8, 2023, in an episode entitled “Black journalists at 9NEWS share their experiences with tokenism.”
The group also noted that stations strategically place the “token” hires on air at times when there are fewer viewers, such as early am shifts.
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The token hires allow the broadcast companies to present false diversity. “We got the one; we’re checking the box,” said one journalist about how media outlets think.
In 2022 when former football player Herschel Walker was a Donald Trump-backed GOP candidate for Georgia U.S. Senate, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham basically admitted Walker was a “token” for the Republican party.
During a joint interview with Walker on Fox News, Graham “portrayed Walker as the GOP’s token Black friend right in front of his face,” MSNBC reported.
Pointing his finger at Walker, Graham declared that Walker “changes the entire narrative” that the GOP is a party of racists.
“[W]what happens when the Republican Party elects and nominates Herschel Walker, an African American, Black Heisman Trophy winner, right? Olympian. It destroys the whole narrative,” Graham claimed.
After the May 2020 police murder of George Floyd, some say that tokenism has increased.
“Industries that had never centered racial justice suddenly found themselves issuing statements, acknowledging past wrongdoing, and taking ownership of transgressions,” wrote Janice Gassam Asare in Forbes. Asare founded an award-winning consultancy, BWG Business Solutions, that provides guidance and education for workplaces looking to foster anti-racist and anti-oppressive environments. She is the author of the book “Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace.”
Tokenism in the workplace can take the form of false marketing and branding.
“A common bait-and-switch tactic is having diversity on the company website that does not reflect the homogenous makeup of the organization. Many companies have evolved past this practice and instead tout their sole underrepresented employee in employment interviews, client meetings, and company videos,” Asare wrote.
Kanye West addressed tokenism in one of his rhymes. On his 2004 Grammy-winning album “The College Dropout,” a song called “Spaceship,” West speaks of working in retail and his experiences with tokenism. He rhymed, “but let some Black people walk in I bet you they show off their token blackie.”
West was referring to a practice where the only employee from a particular background (Black, woman, queer, etc.) is “displayed” as proof of diversity at the company.
Symbolic diversity remains an obstacle to true corporate diversity. And the tactic of placing underrepresented people in high-ranking posts to prove a false point hinders real efforts to push for inclusion, say diversity advocates. And often times, those placed in such positions fall prey to “the lure of status and notoriety,” Forbes reported. They don’t reach down to bring others like themselves up. As author Zora Neale Hurston once wrote “all my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.”
Many diversity experts complain corporations are stuck on the “a seat at the table” program without offering employees in the seat the tools to grow, thrive, and develop. “It is not enough to put diverse faces in high places—what tools and supports can be provided that they do not have already? Are we giving employees the tools to not just liberate themselves but liberate others?” asked Asare.
Organizations can undermine their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts when marketing and key hiring decisions are done as tokenism.
“Tokenism is one significant danger of this complex renegotiation of diversity and inclusion—it’s the mismatch between an organization’s performative effort and its actual record on inclusive behavior. Organizations risk tokenistic displays whenever individuals from marginalized backgrounds are highlighted in public events, photos, or speaking opportunities,” wrote Global Inclusion Consultant Taniya Sonko in Afirmity.
Sonko added, “It’s generally considered desirable in business to appear diverse—if the underlying organization isn’t diverse, and its power remains with its dominant group, accusations of tokenism are ultimately well-founded.”
There is a way to distinguish true diversity efforts from tokenism, Sonko pointed out. Tokenism is when employees find themselves “the only one in the room,” Sonko said.
Tokenism can cause harm to diversity efforts. “If an employee feels like they’re only there for your diversity scorecard, their confidence and ability to do their job will be impacted, and resentment will inevitably grow. They may also feel that there’s little room for psychological safety—after all, every time they’re cornered into an ‘opportunity’”’, they must weigh up whether to play along or push back,” Sonko wrote.
Photo by Thirdman: https://www.pexels.com/photo/businessman-man-suit-people-5060815/