Diversity is a hot topic within the literary world. As a teacher of Gender and Post-Colonial Studies, the question of diversity and its representation within literature is at the forefront of everything I teach, read, and write. Even though the larger part of the canon is still made up of white heterosexual men who write about other white heterosexual men, things are gradually shifting. Self-publishing is doing a lot to alter the gender dynamic: more women are successfully self-published than men, and I have high hopes for self-publishing to open the way for non-white and non-heterosexual writers as well. Next to that, more writers are becoming increasingly aware of the necessity to include a more diverse array of characters in their work.
This last issue is the focus of my new blog series on Writing Diversity.
Each month, I will address the complexity behind the portrayal of diverse characters in our work by diving deeply into a variety of topics, including representation, essentialism, gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, and so on. This month, I discuss the subject of ‘tokenism’—the inclusion of minorities for the sake of inclusion.
What is tokenism?
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.
(Oxford Dictionary online)
[T]he policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort (as
to desegregate). (Merriam-Webster Dictionary online)
Tokenism is inclusion for the sake of inclusion. It is inclusion for the sake of reaching particular quotas. It is inclusion for the sake of showing the world just how diverse and open-minded you are, without actually changing any existing power dynamics. This is why it is called a ‘perfunctory or symbolic effort’: tokens aren’t necessarily included because the ones doing the inclusion want to see actual change, or give a real damn about their struggles. They just don’t want to be caught dead showing in-group favouritism.