Jaimes: Fine line between ‘tokenism’ and racism


After reading the backlash on Texas State University’s invitation to a black conservative speaker, it is clear that many are unaware of the difference between ‘tokenism’ and full-out racism.

By Marina Jaimes


Last week, Texas State University’s student newspaper, The University Star, published an opinion column that highlighted the “tokenism” in the school’s Turning Point USA chapter. The chapter had invited black gun-rights activist Antonia Okafor to campus. I cannot speak on behalf of the students in the chapter, but the widely shared Star column criticizing them sparked my interest about what tokenism actually is.

Recently, singer Zendaya spoke out on racial inequality in Hollywood. She said, “I am Hollywood’s, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a black girl, and that has to change.”

Hollywood’s lackluster effort to represent black women of all shades has proven it symbolically increases diversity and does just the opposite, and that is a great example of tokenism in media. Zendaya, acknowledging this, uses her platform to advocate for more black women in media, not just a few light-skinned black women.

In Zendaya’s case, she is fighting against the Hollywood norm of under-representation as a woman of color and is being praised for her efforts (which is rightfully deserved). No one has accused her as being bought out by a white man for continuing her occupation in a profession that is dominated by white people. This cannot be said about other black activists who choose to use their platform for conservative politics in today’s age.

When accused of being a “manipulated prop” for being included in the GOP’s celebration of passing the recent tax bill, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. tweeted in December, “Uh probably because I helped write the bill for the past year, have multiple provisions included, got multiple senators on board over the last week, and have worked on tax reform my entire time in Congress. But if you’d rather just see my skin color, pls feel free.”

Scott, like many other conservatives, has begged for the left to pay less attention to his skin color and more to the work he is putting into the country. His call for destroying identity politics and the idea that an affiliation should not be based on a factor that one has no control over is often mocked by left-wing politicos.

Okafor, a Second Amendment activist who fiercely advocates for black women to claim power given to them by the Constitution, is often referred to as a token for the conservative movement. Although she advocates for women of color to defend themselves, she is also accused of being self-hating, racist, and an Uncle Tom.

Her critics find themselves more capable of deciding her political affiliation than she is. They find it easier to wrongfully accuse an individual of being a token rather than believing that a person has the audacity to think for herself. As white liberals, they find themselves superior enough to tell black conservatives where their place is in the world, and their racism goes unnoticed by a party that champions tolerance and diversity. Their view of free-thinking black conservatives as synonymous with tokens will continue to demonstrate the rampant hypocrisy found among today’s most inclusive political party.

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