TOKENISM WITHIN THE QUEER COMMUNITY

BY MEFI DIALLO


How often do you hear “Brighton is really diverse”? As if diversity was something easy to achieve. People often forget that being diverse doesn’t necessarily means being visible it’s about inclusion. If you are an organisation, creating events or simply in position of power you have to question yourself. What do you actually do to make diversity happen, what does it really mean?

You must question yourself otherwise you may fall into the opposite of diversity which is called tokenism. The same as being an ally and overstepping boundaries, the line between both is really thin, and quite often blurry.

Tokenism is “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.”

As a black queer woman, I have more often been offered to be photographed for campaigns than invited to join the core team of a movement. People think that requesting such is being diverse, it does tackle the lack of representation, it is a good start but what’s next? As Candice Williams said “it’s trying to cure the symptoms rather than fixing the issue itself”.

Let’s take an example to illustrate the concept. I am running a monthly event with a
committee that is mainly composed of people who are queer but all white, body able, from middle class and academic backgrounds. My event is successful thus I have recently been contacted by the press to give an interview that will integrate people’s experience from whom have attended one of my events. To do so and not in a malicious way, I will chose mostly underrepresented folks to be featured. Even though doing such is tackling the lack of representation in the media, it is not done for good reasons. In that situation, the persons featured are only been used as a tool to demonstrate diversity.

To be diverse, the core team should be composed by people from underrepresented groups. They should be part of the event decisions and not only featured in an article to show how diverse this event is. Thinking about the audience, were the people attending those events mainly composed of people from underrepresented groups?

Some of you may think that it’s impossible to do good then, I would not say it’s impossible
but just that it is not as easy as it seems. Being diverse means fighting against the system in place more than using people to prove a thing which is most of the time for our own sake.

Doing such is not challenging ableism, racism, sexism, body shaming etc. I believe that if both visibility and activism are combined then diversity can exist.

Diversity shouldn’t be a one off, it should not be reduced to person in position of power using underrepresented folk as a token to demonstrate how diverse they. Otherwise this means that everyone is interchangeable, and that all POC for example have the same narratives.

When this is not true, as a POC with a darker skin, I do not experience racism the same way than a POC with a lighter skin does. Same as someone who has an invisible disability will have a different narrative than someone who has a visible disability. If you take sexism, for example, does equality between men and women get reduced to seeing women in adverts or governments?

No it is more complicated than that, it’s fighting for equal pay, fighting against gender roles and stereotypes, it’s joining the for pro-choice movement and so on.

As much as we think we are safe within the queer community we aren’t. As a matter of fact a community is a microcosm therefore it mirrors what is happening on the outside, in the wider society. Which means that we are replicating the same patterns, issues related to unbalanced power and white supremacy. As sad as this sound it’s the reality, a sad truth far away from the queer utopia we’ve always been dreaming of.

What can we do?

First: We must work on ourselves. To avoid falling into tokenism we must ask ourselves what are our main motivation when doing something. When questioning ourselves if we cannot come up with more than a surface level answer then there is something wrong. Working on ourselves also mean getting knowledge, through reading, talks, via people’s
experience etc. It is important to be able to understand, to unbuild years of oppression
perpreted but also internalized. Unbuild societal constructs based on history that has been whitewashed, giving often the view of the colonialist, the winner, showing beauty standards that aren’t reflecting the “diversity” of this world, inviting us to consume over and over again…

Secondly: We must be active. Get involved with your local charities, “be part of the change you want to see in the world” it sounds cheesy but so real. Be part of the fight and stop pretending that because you are not affected by an issue you should not join the movement.

As Angela Davis said “In a racist society, it’s not enough to be non-racist— you have to be
anti-racist”.

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