Race: The Token White Kid
Submission by Robby Diesu, TNG contributor
It was the orientation for my fellowship, a fellowship designed to give young progressives a chance to get a head start in their careers. It is different from most fellowship programs with the same goal because is it geared towards people of color and lgbtq youth. In the past when I have attended events geared towards the same groups of people, there is usually one token person of color and a couple of token lgbtq folks. This was not one of those cases.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, and possibly ever(?), I was the only white male-bodied person at the orientation the whole weekend. I mean everyone: from the folks in charge to the other fellows to the people they brought in to do the trainings, all were people of color. I was in gay anti-racist heaven. For once I was the token white kid!
As the weekend went on I kept thinking about its implications. Was I really the best white male who applied? Was my life story that different from most? I mean, I have/had more class privilege then you can shake a stick at in my life, but I was chosen for who I am now and surrounded by others who were chosen for the same reason.
Often those of us on the left, particularly self-described anarchist like myself, attempt and fail to bring in all types of people. It leads to tokenization, (cough* ANSWER Marches *cough) and not building of the real communities we need. This fellowship has done diversity successfully and powerfully, it was an honor to be there and to be working with others.
Over the course of the weekend, one of the other fellows asked me if I felt out of place, if I felt uncomfortable during the weekend, and if I felt the need to prove something. I was slightly taken back about the statement, but as we talked I understood (or at least I think I did) where they were coming from. People of color and queer people are often tokenized to be a part of the discussion, to give that alternative perspective that mainstream liberals often feel that they need. To make liberals feel better for being white, for having privilege, and to “prove” they are not racist or heterosexist. That weekend had reversed the dichotomy and I was the token white kid.
During the anti-oppression workshop, we talked about the ways that forms of oppression intersect, that all oppression is intertwined, and that you are not just defined by one aspect of who you inherently are. As queer people, some of us have the ability to easily shift between the violence of oppression and we can easily hide who we are to escape some of our oppression. We can be that straight person at the office, on the bus, or being questioned by the pigs. The point is, we shouldn’t have to, and we should stop.
The most prudent thing I learned this past weekend is that we need to reject this notion of who is oppressed more and whom the system is out to get the most. What we need to do is focus on building community and real ties with other oppressed people. We need to see that we all blend across the spectrum, and that we are all inherently different. We must see that our equality will create nothing more than our assimilation into heterosexual society. Our uniqueness will be lost and we will still be oppressed. Our liberation will come when we take a step back and truly look at ourselves for who we are: humans with dignity.
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