- In our ongoing ‘Facebook Politics’ series, we see an American exchange student, Kaila Bridgeman, using Facebook to express her dismay at being racially profiled. It is becoming increasingly common for people to voice their political views on Facebook, usually resulting in a heated debate in the comments. Why not get these comments and debates out there? Unedited, uncut – straight from the horses’ mouth.
Eventually, I made sure to address the offensive comments my seminar tutor had made a few weeks prior. I decided to ask her what exactly she had meant when she called me a “black token”.
Of course, she assured me the label was not meant to be offensive. ‘Do you know of South Park’, she then asked, while I stared at her in disbelief. She continued – according to South Park (a show I actually don’t watch), ‘There always has to be a token black person’.
She tried to explain that she wanted a perspective from a black person on the matter, since we were in a room full of white people. I tried to kindly explain that it was unfair to be put on the spot just because I was black, and I was sure that others in the room also had important points to contribute. I was not comfortable with being treated as the representative for my entire race.
She then began relating the incident back to another topic we had covered in class, Women in Rock, and how although the men had been participating in that discussion, she had wanted to give the women a chance to speak for their sex as well. I told her I understood where she was coming from, but the phrasing and implications of saying “black token” were problematic, and it was not fair to put anyone on the spot, whether it’s for being black, or being a woman, or anything else.
I told her we all have a lot to learn on perspective. She reiterated that she just wanted to get my perspective during that class because in the past, she’s had other black students who felt comfortable enough to speak up during these types of conversations. I told her not everyone is comfortable with doing so (all black people aren’t alike?!?!?), that I was personally still processing her seminar and was not moved to speak at the time, but if she had framed a proper question and asked us to discuss it in small groups or pairs, I probably would have been more inclined to gather my thoughts, then share with the rest of the class. I reiterated that the phrasing and pressure of the situation was the issue.
Are you getting frustrated by the monotony of this story? Now you know how I feel. It was like nailing jelly to a tree. We went back and forth like this for a bit before she smiled and thanked me for my input in a way to let me know she was done with the conversation.
Well, I did a little reading about the South Park character ‘Token Black’. I will now cite him in my essay to highlight the problem with the essentialist way of thinking – that believing that certain characteristics are inherent to a specific racial or ethnic group is wrong, and that this way of thinking is limiting and devalues the individuality of each person in these groups.
I hate everybody. The end.