Tokenism

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Think the only woman in a welder’s helmet in a factory – worthy of a news segment.

Think Barak Obama – the first black president of the USA – worthy of many, many news segments!

Think Caitlyn Jenner – on the cover of a famous magazine – and worthy of probably the same number of news segments as the above put together! 🙂

What do they have in common is quite obvious.

They are people.

They are also Other. Different. Unusual.

And tokenism? This doesn’t get too many positive votes, whether on television or anywhere else for that matter. But they are related and there is also some hope, if long term, for change.

Let’s split hairs.

I come from a country that was multicultural with a mono-cultural type of aspirations. Everybody should behave the same way, speak the same language, study the same subjects, be proud of the same things.

I live in a country that is multicultural with a bi-cultural type of aspirations. Everybody can behave this way or that way etc. etc. and if there is a third (or fourth, or fifth…) way then we will find similarities and go from there… towards multiculturalism (probably, in time).

Tokenism is seen as the bad guy in this. Let’s give some (few) of them the pieces of carrot we have no use for and that will keep (all of) them quiet. That is the usual view.

And yet I would argue that tokenism is one of the few honest-to-goodness ways of changing humans. There are “Damascene conversions”, usually following an outstandingly rare important event (or a trauma) which changes people forever. They are just as rare as that outstandingly rare important event or the not-so-rare trauma. They are also not very reliable because you cannot control the direction of the change: yes, the change can be for the better… or not. This type of conversion is very fast however.

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With tokenism you can control the direction of change provided you take a couple of generations to apply it. The results can be visible quickly but have to also be sustained over a longer period of time. Think road signs in two languages or more – of the same mountain for example. They weren’t there before. Now you put them up. Old-timers* scoff and snort and generally ignore or decry the change (and the expense: “why fix something that ain’t broken?”). The old-timers’ children grow up seeing them however and they will ask their teachers (or their parents :P) why the two names – discussion ensues, and a young mind will make the decision very quickly – they will use one name at home and the other name everywhere else. Their children will probably know one name as true and the other one as historical. I will not always bet on which one, but I have hopes 🙂

I would say that tokenism comes from the top down. Damascene conversions usually happen to isolated individuals. Is there no other way? Talking to your neighbour comes to mind…

What do you think?

*Old timers are not always old. Even when they are old, they remain delightfully argumentative. I happen to love several of them 🙂

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