Neev Times Blog

Tokenism and its Power to Start Conversations

By Aditi Magesh, Grade 10

We see it everywhere–from big companies that change their logos to the “token representation” in TV shows. Tokenism is “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing,” and with the rise of social media, tokenism isn’t just limited to big companies or celebrities. We saw this last year when millions of people posted black squares as a symbol of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and pledged to get off social media for the day, but did little else.

It's justified for people who have been tokenized to feel anger or frustration towards the source of this; whether it's a company or even their friend group. In the workplace, tokens are more likely to experience stress by trying to be a good representative for their group, which often leads them to overwork themselves, causing exhaustion or in the worst case, burnout. Unfortunately, tokenistic people often benefit from their superficial engagement in a monetary sense (queer baiting in shows) or in a social sense (people using their POC friends as justification for being inclusive, even if they are not).

In recent years, this phenomenon has turned into a way to talk about good representation and what it means to ally with an oppressed group. A strong example of this is the backlash against Sia’s movie, Music, which was considered a stereotyped and ableist representation of non-verbal autism.

Tokenism is the most shallow way to support a movement, write a show, or display diversity in a company. However, it is one of the main factors that have helped start conversations that will shape a world where people think critically, empathically, and creatively about allyship and representation. Let’s hope that in the coming years, we keep the conversation going.