We Don’t Want to be Your Token

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On a lovely summer night not too long ago, in a land called ‘where I live,’ I attended a soiree with friends that turned into at best one of the more uncomfortable social situations I’ve been in with people I actually know in real life.

It started out bad for me and went to worse in less than thirty minutes, leaving me watching my phone for the most socially acceptable way to leave as soon as possible. We had gathered to celebrate a friend and one of the guests began going on about how they had that “token one black friend so when someone asked about them, the person knew immediately bc they had no other friends of any different ethnicity in their life.”

Ex-squeeze me?

Through her jaded laughter, I know I began to make ‘the face.’ You know, the one of disbelief, of trying to cover it up because you’re in public, and the one that says “holy hell, can i leave now?”

As she droned on about her immediate knowledge of her ‘token black friend’ laughing, I mostly became mortified.

Do I say something?

I opted not to, I was there to celebrate a friend, not make a huge scene, but I also reminded myself why I stopped investing in this racist individual over a year ago. I think what made it so uncomfortable for me was that I know all of these people in real life, they’re not random, ignorant strangers. They’re people who actually exist. This person has some clear issues about diversity and inclusion that were made clear to me some time ago. I had avoided everything about this person for a long time until this. In a small town, it’s hard not to run into people from time to time.

Issues like this end up being something we can easily become desensitized to because we don’t really know these people in the media. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of racist bigots in the world, several that I know, and more that I hope I never meet, but what makes this hard is that I can put a name with a face with a life that some of these people have. When we say and do racist things, we often don’t know anyone or dehumanize them, much like my acquaintance bragging on their ONE minoritized friend. We have lives. We are productive members of society.

WE DON’T WANT TO BE YOUR TOKEN!

You want a token, I’ll get you a subway card in NYC or DC or some from Chuck-E-Cheese. I’m not to be collected to clear your hateful conscience or so you can make some largely inappropriate jokes. As I’ve delved into a new body of literature for my own work on diversity and inclusion it’s becoming easier and more clear to spot these aggressions and micro-aggressions in people. Their defensiveness and white fragility is hard to ignore, and my fight or flight response kicks in much quicker. We’ve created a society where everything is sensationalized and if I do respond I get called “crazy,” “rude,” or a slew of other things, giving the person who is the racist the agency to become the “victim” because some Asian got ‘crazy’ on them. Yes, I did speak up because you and your ignorant behavior are intolerable.

I have learned that sometimes it’ best to walk away. Changing people is worse than herding a bunch of cats but it doesn’t teach anyone anything. It reinforces their negative behavior. While I can say “I hope their karma catches up with them” it often does not. I do hope it does. What I can do is continue doing work, being a productive member of society, and working hard. Like T. Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate” and in my world, the racists are gonna keep on being racist so I’m gonna drop the mic, walk away, and appreciate the folks I have in my life who would pissed at me for being late, not for being Asian.

Cause nobody got time for that.

 

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One thought on “We Don’t Want to be Your Token

  1. I just found your blog and I love it. This reminded me of a minor revelation I had recently. Another prof in my department is Chinese, but has been in the US for a long time. He is a full professor with various distinguished titles. And yet I’ve seen online comments about him in which students complain they “can’t understand a word he says” or he is “impossible to learn anything from.” This always bothered me but recently I gave it more than a passing thought and realized this is straight-up racism. Yes, the professor in question speaks with an accent and sometimes makes grammar errors. But in no way is he difficult to understand. I have seen him give talks, and had dozens of conversations with him. Never once have I had an issue with understanding. I think students just see a Chinese person, hear the accent, and immediately give up on trying to learn and blame it on the professor.

    I took two lessons away from this: 1) lots of people experience negative bias professionally, and it’s good to recognize that when we can. 2) Don’t put too much stock in student evaluations. Student evaluations are particularly prone to things like racial and gender biases. It’s on the students to figure out how to learn from diverse individuals, not up to those individuals to somehow change.

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