Some thoughts on tokenism

There is a guestpost up at Professor What If that I feel the need to respond to. I feel the need to respond, and to respond here at Radical Doula at not at Feministing (where most of my blogging has been going lately) because of the nature of the conversation the post has invoked.

The post is called What if the feminist blogosphere is a form of digital colonialism?

You should read it, but it touches on some of the politics of blogging, “big time” blogs vs smaller blogs, WOC bloggers vs. white bloggers. Tokenism and power.

As a Latin@ blogger who started writing for this “small time” (what is the definition of that anyway?) blog and then joined a “big time” (again, where is the line?) blog as a contributor about a year ago, I felt like Van Deven and Shoot were talking about me.

There is A LOT running through my head right now. I’m annoyed, I’m frustrated, I’m tired of having to expend energy responding to intra-feminist blog wars and cat fights.

I already feel the pull between writing for this blog, which I love and miss when I don’t have time to write as much, writing for a larger blog with a bigger reach (more impact?) and yes, more benefits to my own life as a writer/activist, and the other myriad of things I do to make money to support my passions, many of which don’t pay.

I’m not going to lie. I love that I have a platform at a blog that has built up a readership over the last 5 years. As much as I sometimes hate having to deal with commenters at Feministing, I like that I get to talk about the world from my own queer, Latin@ perspective, to many people who would never hear it otherwise. And they need to hear this shit. Seriously.

How would the first 21 years of my life been different if I had had someone like me to look up to? What if Ellen DeGeneres hadn’t been the only dyke I knew of? What if I had been able to read the thoughts of someone like myself, about gender, sex, race, politics, life? Maybe my teenage/college years wouldn’t have been so damn isolating. And you know what? I never would have found a blog like radical doula. We need these ideas and perspectives in mainstream (and I say that with a bit of perspective, since no feminist blog is really mainstream yet) places, so that people like the 16 year old version of myself might see themselves reflected somewhere.

Shark Fu pretty much hit the nail on the head in terms of how offensive the tone and implications of that post are. I can’t be bought. I can be offered an opportunity, a larger microphone, a new platform. I can say no, I can set my own terms, I can choose to preserve the spaces that are mine and mine alone at the same time as a I contribute elsewhere.

You want to talk about tokenism?

Let’s talk about tokenism. Let’s talk about how it happens everywhere and everyday. Let’s talk about how it’s the flip-side of oppression. Let’s talk about how it makes me question every award I receive, every job I get, every person who emails me, every opportunity I’ve ever had. Let’s talk about how often I make a joke out of my own presence to call attention to the hidden thought in the room before someone else does. Let’s talk about how it makes me feel like I can only talk about a certain set of issues, that I have to be the one and only representative of an entire community. Let’s talk about how I don’t need to be publically reminded of something I think about every day.

But do me a favor. Let’s put this shit in context. The feminist blogosphere isn’t the only place that tokenism happens. And it’s probably not the first place we need to be fighting it. Not that you asked, but my role in the big feminist blog I write for is pretty damn much my own. No one tells me what to write about, how to write, who to write for. I make all those decisions, just like I decided to join that platform as just one part of the activism I do everyday.


18 thoughts on “Some thoughts on tokenism

  1. Courtney February 19, 2009 / 1:25 pm

    Great post Miriam. I hope you’ll keep writing about tokenism and the daily decisions you face therein. I’d like to learn more from you on it.

  2. Nettle Syrup February 19, 2009 / 7:11 pm

    I often wonder just how much minority people are affected by all this. I think it’s different for black people than any other ethnicity, through my own experience looking at it from the outside (as a white girl). You rarely hear about the same kind of tokenism for asians, but I guess it happens.

    I’m torn sometimes between my thoughts that some types of affirmative action are necessary to counter the fact that we DON’T live in a meritocratic system, and on the other hand my thoughts that this constitutes tokenism and is patronising. Reading blogs helps me understand better since I moved from a very conservative white/asian town to a city of many more cultures and ethnicity.

  3. Afghan Whig February 19, 2009 / 8:59 pm

    A serious question from a conservative who isn’t here to start a flame war:

    Do you support affirmative action/proportional representation policies that appear to promote tokenism? If so, how do you reconcile your views on tokenism with these positions?

    p.s. Are your feministing blogs exclusive to feministing? Or are you able to cross-post entries on both blogs? I write for two blogs, and find it easiest to keep both audiences in mind when I do so.

  4. radicaldoula February 19, 2009 / 11:59 pm

    Nettle Syrup–Tokenism isn’t just about race, it can also be about an number of things, class, sexuality, gender, etc. But I do think people from many different races and ethnicities deal with this kind of tokenism.

    Afghan Whig–I can cross post and I often do, but not all of the time. I like to tailor my writing to the different audiences.

    I think that tokenism and affirmative action can be two different things. They often do go together, but they do not have to. We do need to find ways to combat the systematic and historical oppressions that have created the inequities we see today. But the simple fact that I represent a marginalized community does not automatically make me less than, which the opponents to AA often argue. It’s a nuanced issue to be sure.

  5. Mandy February 20, 2009 / 12:26 am

    Thank you for your critical feedback, Miriam. I recognize that this aspect of our argument was flawed and we should have spent more time clarifying what we meant exactly. We should have left that more open, and used our own experience as working class women to exemplify that point. Instead we opted for something we believed was more visible. That was a mistake. That clarification can be found on Octogalore’s blog.

  6. Coffee Cup February 20, 2009 / 12:55 am

    This is wonderful writing. I’m not sure why you didn’t want to post it or cross post it at Feministing though? What about the nature of the conversation is different?

  7. radicaldoula February 22, 2009 / 11:08 am

    Coffee Cup–

    I felt the need to post this on Radical Doula for a few reasons:

    -because this space does feel more my own, no matter how welcoming feministing is to me

    -because the original post insinutated that my voice at feministing was only marginal and i wanted to center what I had to say in the original place my blogging started

    Courtney ended up exerpting some of this article at feministing, which of course I was fine with.

  8. iris February 28, 2009 / 12:11 pm

    i have been reading as much as i can w/regard to this discussion….i’d like to refrain from including all of my thoughts and instead highlight one aspect of your discussion, RD. what stands out to me is your recognition that despite your choice to write for the ‘big time’ blog, the fact that you were asked to do so, “…offered an opportunity, a larger microphone, a new platform”, is quite telling. i feel as if my comment is less relevant to the specific case at hand as to the greater question of “choice”, but i felt your emphasis was a revealing and seemingly neglected facet of this ongoing, and quite frankly, disheartening, blogospheric saga.
    by highlighting the fact that you were offered an opportunity seems to make van deven/shoot’s point, no?
    i’d like to add that feministing and those associated with it have seemed to let the dialogue peeter out following the apology issued by van deven/shoot instead of recognizing it as a means to continue this important discussion.

  9. radicaldoula February 28, 2009 / 1:37 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts and reflection Iris.

    I have to admit that after reading van deven/shoot’s apology, I was more frustrated than anything else. It didn’t want me to continue to engage in the debate they started. I felt it was defensive, overly reflective and just not that helpful. It doesn’t fundamentally change the tone of their original post or make me less angered or frustrated.

    I don’t really want to engage further in a discussion started by them, two outsiders in the feminist blog world, that was based on so many assumptions (many that were false) and was frankly super patronizing. I don’t want to dialogue on their terms, or in response to their thoughts. Frankly the whole thing appeared to me as an attempt to enter with a splash into the feminist blog world. I didn’t want to feed into that controversy anymore than I already had.

    They posted their “apology” on a blog called digitalcolonialism. That in and of itself is enough for me to feel over it and uninterested in engaging more with them. Neither really responded to my concerns except to say “sorry we didn’t try to make friends with you first!” I’m sorry but that’s bs.

    These conversations are important. The way the blogosphere is constructed, how certain voices rise to more prominence than others, all of those things need to be talked about. But it’s important to me that this conversation start from a place of respect, of mutual understanding, from people who don’t presume to know how it functions without actually asking.

    The initial “response” that Mandy posted here was the exact same comment she posted on Sharkfu’s blog. Word for word. That’s not the kind of dialogue I’m interested in having.

  10. iris February 28, 2009 / 2:43 pm

    thanks for responding – i appreciate your respectful tone and i agree with much of your observations (overly reflective indeed!!)….and the overwhelming sense of frustration is contagious to say the least!
    again, i appreciate your response and your thoughtfulness….i’m new here and will most certainly return
    ~ iris

  11. Feminist Review February 28, 2009 / 3:00 pm

    “two outsiders in the feminist blog world”

    I guess that could be construed as true… if you consider being an active feminist blogger, including writing for a blog that you write for, for over two years an “outsider”. But nice (failed) attempt at invalidation.

  12. root March 2, 2009 / 1:27 am

    I have tried, of late, to be honest at every moment. Besides being an insanely difficult practice, it has opened and closed doors I could not have imagined. I mention this, merely to say that the fear of tokenism, both in yourself and white/privileged people near you, would start to dissipate under those circumstances. Mind you, it doesn’t work so well when the white/privileged people around you don’t wish to engage in honest discussions – you will loose and gain friends, you couldn’t imagine. The good news is you will address those questions within yourself and allow your behaviors in these complex situations to evolve. I’m lighter these days, and that’s enough.

  13. whatsername March 5, 2009 / 4:32 am

    As usual I love your thoughts and words RD. 🙂

  14. annajcook March 9, 2011 / 4:45 pm

    As a white, cisgendered queer woman I’m not from a demographic that’s generally considered vulnerable to tokenism in feminist spaces. So perhaps I have the privilege of not seeing tokenism in action every day. I recognize that. But I also speak from the position of someone who — like many of the commenters on this thread and SharkFu’s thread — discovered the myriad, less-high-profile bloggers in the feminist blogosphere THROUGH the entry-point of higher-profile blogs like Feministing and Feministe. The self-promotion threads as well as regular blog posts and community posts, etc.

    This isn’t to say I don’t see mainstream-vs-margins tension within the virtual space(s) of the internet … but it’s a very complex dynamic. Like you, Miriam, I’m inclined to see arguments that your presence at Feministing = tokenism as reductive and ultimately judgmental of your participation in a space you’ve chosen without stopping to listen to how you experience that participation, and what it means to you in terms of your blogging, your activism, your identity, etc.

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