Diary Note 16th of July 2023: I was blessed enough to deliver a keynote speech as part of the Therapy in Colour conference on Saturday 15th of July 2023. As part of the speech I reflected upon the fact that activism doesn’t end, no matter how much we want it to. The systems of patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism, are hundreds if not thousands of years old as they are, and are not going to be dismantled only in a generation. That change is an ongoing battle, and that I will be long departed from this world before our time comes. That, at best, it will be the work of my great grandchildren who will bring this fight to its logical conclusion.
The idea that Systems of Oppression are, at least, threefold, was a perspective put forward by feminist and civil rights activist, Bell Hooks (Hooks, 2016). In her writings, Hooks recognise that White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Capitalism were interlocking systems which maintained their superiority through the marginalisation of the other based upon their race, gender, sexuality, class, age, ability and other intersectional factors.
In my book, The Psychology of Supremacy (Turner, 2023), the many ways in which these systems maintain themselves, and their psychological impact upon us all, is considered in some depth. From Greenwashing, to the denial of difference, to historical erasure, these are many and damaging to the experiences of the other. This blog though is concerned with just one of these, tokenism, and its use by systems of supremacy to blunt for force of activism.
Diary Note 16th July 2023 Continued: At the end of my presentation I was asked a question about the importance of pain in the life of an activist. The question, from an obviously brilliant person, stunned me. It stunned me because it was on the right track. Activism is very much rooted in the pain of the other. The pain at its exclusion, at the abuses it has endured, at its invisibility. Yet, it is this pain which motivates so much of what I do as an activist. I talk about the pain in my therapy, I sometimes seek out ways and means of alleviating this pain so I get some respite. They always fail though. The pain always returns. As the pain was always supposed to.
Tokenism, as explored by Flores Niemann (1999) recognises the detrimental impact of the singular inclusion of a minority in a system designed to exclude it, and is often presented as a system, a school, company, board, taking on a diversity hire in order to appear to be more inclusive around EDI than it is under the surface.
For the other there is another angle presented as well. There is the seductive promise by the capitalists, of white supremacy and patriarchy, of a tokenistic seat at the table of equality. A seat designed to elevate that singular other towards a plinth of specialness, a platform though designed as much to silence said activist other as it is to seemingly give it a voice.
The fact that this is so attractive a position also brings up a split in the activist community, especially around the idea I discuss in more detail is that not all activists are the same (Turner, 2023). Some activists are driven by the need to be accepted by the gatekeepers, whilst others are not interested in gatekeepers and their systems at all, and there is a major difference between the two.
The colonisation of equality, the title of this blog, explores the first of these, and unveils the possible roles they play in lining their own paths, whilst also sacrificing other, more intersectional routes to equity. It recognises how the Centre coopts and seduces aspects of the this adapted other into its centre, from where it can be seen to be doing the right thing; or performing equality. This kind of Equalitywashing, or wokewashing, allows institutions, governments, and whole countries to appear to be doing the moral thing, whilst simultaneously disempowering those they have drafted in to do said work (Sobande, 2020).
Examples abound in this regard. From the white feminist who desires a seat on the board of a capitalist company populated by patriarchs may claim to play a role for the rights of all women, whilst also marginalising the working classes, women from other races, and migrants who work for said organisation. Or the male civil rights activists who crave identity parity with whiteness, whilst also marginalising women of colour, or sexual minorities. Ultimately, the lack of willingness for organisations and groups to take the messages of morality of activists seriously means they have had to build in systems to contain whilst only changing very little.
Diary Note 16th July 2023 Ends: Artists write heartrending songs from their pain. Painters paint images through what they see of the world and imbue their work with their loneliness and isolation, whilst poets produce passages of prose which so eloquently express their love or separatness and pain from their beloveds. The pain of the activist is no different to theirs. It is this which means we fight. It is this which means we create. It is not our trauma, it is not out internalised abuser, as this is something different. It is from the heart-rendered, lonely, isolated, separate aspects of our souls that we fight for the other. That I fight for the other. My pain is my doorway to my activism.
Tokenism therefor separates the one from their own many, from their own community. As well as this it separates the other from their own driving force for change, their will, or their fire. Which is exactly what the system wants. The system wants to look good by brandishing the dulled edge of the knife of their own diversity hire against those who might challenge them for their own hatred and exploitation of the other.
The cost upon those who have been coopted, or should I say corrupted, can also be huge. It can be soul destroying, and shaming, knowing that one has been brought into a so called, so desired, Eden by the promises of a systemic snake, only to have to endure systemic oppressions from the inside of said organisation. The mirage of money, status, of a voice promised, only to reveal the reality of the levels of silencing, marginalisation, and disempowerment.
Lastly, can I say that I have never visited this wellspring of toxicity? No, I can’t. But what I can say is there is a way through. That even though it took time to recover from the horrors of the hatred embedded within tokenism, what I realised was that not only was the experience of being tokenised a common one for so many of us as minorities, but that recovery led me to climb back onto the back of the horse called activism and fight back. The instinctual returning, my activist fire burning anew.
Flores Niemann, Y. (1999). The Making of a Token: A Case Study of Stereotype Threat, Stigma, Racism, and Tokenism in Academe. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 20(1), 111–134.
Hooks, B. (2016). Feminism is for everybody. In Ideals and Ideologies: A Reader. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315625546
Sobande, F. (2020). Woke-washing: “intersectional” femvertising and branding “woke” bravery. European Journal of Marketing, 54(11), 2723–2745. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-02-2019-0134
Turner, D. D. L. (2023). The Psychology of Supremacy. Routledge.