Monday, 5 December 2011

The tokenism/racism distinction

I was reading a creative writing guide that advised when writing to stay away from featuring an all-white cast "unless your novel is set in the rural parts of Sweden." I highly disagree. The implication here is that you should balance up your novel with a racially mixed cast, which is one of the best examples of tokenism - treating someone as a "token", as if they're just somebody that you use to satisfy certain criteria.

You also see tokenism in the workplace, or so I hear anyway. I hear of businesses having "quotas" to fill in terms of hiring, that they must hire n amount of non-white people so they aren't viewed as discriminatory. Not only is this just another form of tokenism - hiring someone because they're black and not because they're right for the job is not the way to go - but it's just a more subtle form of discrimination; because you're hiring non-white people to fill a certain ethnic quota, this is to possibly pick them over a white person with all the proper qualifications, who would be a perfect fit for the job. That's not to say the non-white person wouldn't be, but that their race should not, must not be the deciding grounds for their employment prospects.

But then it gets confusing. To me, at least. Because here we're not only able to call racism, we can call tokenism, and trying to fix either will probably result in the other. For example, in the employment scenario, say you're called on the fact that you're exclusively hiring Indians, because, well, they're Indian. And it's not an Indian restaurant either. What do you then do? If you stop hiring Indians to avoid tokenism, you're still both tokenistic in only hiring whites, and racist. Really, tokenism and racism are two sides of the same coin. And it's a coin you shouldn't really flip.

A workplace should hire based on qualifications. When you get into ethnic origins, it creates a whole load of irrelevant crap.

I was probably going somewhere good with this. I was going to go on and talk about how this doesn't just apply to race, but the confusion that results when two sides are calling on exclusive selection, but I've got a mental block, the kind that comes when I don't plan my blogs, which is nearly all of the time these days.

~Love Leonidas

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