Background: a professor for a women’s studies class wrote about how he assigned Full-Frontal Feminism (FFF), a book that was accompanied with much criticism, to his class and that it was a hit with the students. To sum it up it was basically “HA! you radical women of color (WOC) bloggers, I know woc who LOVED IT so there!!!” BrownFemiPower (BFP) framed the follow-up discussion in her post to not to be around FFF but how women of color are tokenized and ignored in women’s studies departments. This professor attempted to discredit every point BFP made and when Black Amazon (BA) followed up, she was made to be a spokesperson for all women of color. Gotta love it.
One of my favorite words is the term “crip on a stick.” A dear friend and activist was at a planning group for some community festival and when they did not have any Native American people present, a committee member actually suggested creating life-size images of people in ceremonial outfits, putting them on sticks, and dancing around in a circle with the stick images during the event. Ridiculous, huh? Now we use the term Crip on a Stick to describe people in the Disability Rights Movement who are brought in to meetings to be that one token crip, young person, person of color. etc.
And this is where the conversation quickly swerves to a whole different thing…
I’ve been that crip on a stick quite a bit (in fact, try the first two years of my involvement in the disability community). Because so much of the way young disabled people find out about the movement/community is through gov-funded programs, many (and I would dare say most) young people in the movement start out as these type of crips. We are taught to think disability activism means being that one token young person on every single board and committee in the country. And this entry probably sounds like utter hypocrisy because I still excessively serve on these boards and committees. This is what happens when a movement is run solely through the nonprofit complex and is dependent on government and philanthrophic [like charity] funding.
Obviously we NEED representation—I’m not arguing against that. My point is that this tokenized representation [a person just being a symbol] may come off as a good thing (getting X group to the table) but in reality, a tokenized person is often used first as a tactic to invalidate [cancel or take away] points made by others.— i.e. “We HAVE a woman of color on our board and she LOVES this idea. You’re wrong.” Secondly it is used as an excuse not to act on something—“Can’t you see we’re already talking about youth issues? We have a young person on our committee!” (And of course this is just a side note but I’m not sure that person counts as a youth when they’re going on 30, my friend.)
Not only are there rewards for the people who are these tokenized figures, but there end up being strong penalties [problems] for those that don’t (i.e. losing funding for important programs). People who choose NOT to go this route and instead do other types of activism end up facing the consequences of not being on these boards. They may choose to focus on radical community-organizing or infesting their group with concepts of disability pride and identity and in return, they miss out on all the networking and connections with powerful people.
The way everything is organized (dare I say “the system”?) is designed for us to be submissive. When we aren’t, whether we are disabled people, women of color, queer people, young people, people who don’t have class privilege or all of the above, we are told that this is not the time or place, the issue is not actually an issue, or there is something wrong with our tone (BA did a great post on this a while back).
My favorite song by Immortal Technique ends with this:
“I don’t look at a few token Latinos and black people in the public eye as some type of achievement for my people as a whole. Most of those successful individuals are sell-outs and house Negros. But, I don’t consider brothers a sell-out if they move out of the ghetto. Poverty has nothing to do with our people. It’s not in our culture to be poor. That’s only been the last 500 years of our history; look at the last 2000 years of our existence…So in conclusion, I’m not gonna vote for anybody just ’cause they black or Latino they have to truly represent the community and represent what’s good for all of us proletariat.”