10 Signs You’re The “Token” & Not Actually A Part Of The Team

February 21, 2013 ‐ By Toya Sharee
Source: Thinkstock.com

Source: Thinkstock.com

Whether it was Lisa Turtle on “Saved by the Bell,” The Black Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, or the appropriately named Token from “South Park,” they all have one thing in common: they play the token among a cast of predominately white characters whom we might not otherwise relate to.  When it comes to film and television, the 80’s and 90’s were filled with sassy assistants, intimidating sidekicks or soul-singing Grandmas who were never the main character.  Maybe it’s something that’s been historically oppressed on African-American culture, but some us have definitely kept the “token mentality” ball rolling by not allowing our people as a whole to achieve any significant level of success.  What is the token mentality, exactly? It’s the belief that only one of us at any given time can be the educated one, the pretty one or the funny one.  The only area of our culture that this doesn’t take place is Hip-Hop. Otherwise, before any of us can make some progress, we begin to pull one another down when it seems any one of us is getting just a bit more shine than the others.  As a result, a majority of us usually end up at the bottom together complaining about how “the man” is holding us down.

I think on some level we all do it to ourselves.  How many times have you driven through a different neighborhood feeling slightly uncomfortable until you spot another black person? They may have zero in common with you, but instantly you’re relieved because if you’re going down, at least it’s together…or so you hope.

There are certain things inherent to black culture that others have difficulty picking up on, but as I get older I learn more and more stereotypes are not about your race as much as it’s about how you were raised.  For example I can’t cornrow, just recently learned what a “dub” is and people actually set mailboxes on fire?  Where they do that at?

It’s OK that we don’t always stick together and there’s nothing wrong rolling with other people that don’t share your race if you actually have things in common, because honestly you’re not obligated to like other black people just because you’re black. The problem comes when you think that having white friends equals having white privileges and when those friends don’t truly look at you as a friend but, well a token.  Here are ten signs you may be just that:

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  • Raven K

    what if you actually LIKE rave music and rock and would actually prefer to listen to that?

  • cinnamonowl

    The last one is the most interesting, because it can and does go deeper than “not being comfortable with you”. They may be comfortable with you, as an individual, but that doesn’t mean that they are comfortable crossing into your community, or acknowledging your different cultural experiences. This is why white people say that old chestnut, “I don’t think of you as being black”. It often means, “I feel close enough to you that I forget that we have cultural differences sometimes; you are my friend first, and black second.” However, just because you have that closeness with one individual, doesn’t mean they are comfortable with your background. That’s not just a “race” thing, but also happens in other situations. Think about interfaith relationships. Or friendships that cross classes. You love your best friend, and you’re the same race, but her parents look down on you because your family doesn’t have money, and they never let you forget it. Your friend invites you to a fancy party at her house, and the whole time you get the feeling you’re being judged by all her parents’ friends.

    So, anyway – I had two friends in Chicago, one white, the other black; the white woman lived in a white, mostly Italian, middle class suburb, the black woman lived on the South Side in a neighborhood that was black. And they did, believe me, have disagreements about who was going to see whom and where. Bottom line, both of them did not feel welcome in each others’ neighborhood, and that seemed to be a facet of racism by other people as well as the baggage they were each bringing to the table. While fears of safety definitely can be an issue, fears of not being accepted, or of facing hostility, might also be at play. Have you ever been somewhere you weren’t welcomed, where people stared at you? Did you ever worry that you were going to be in this situation, and find out that, whew, people treated you better than you feared? A white friend you don’t know very well probably won’t talk turkey about these concerns, for fear of coming off as racist. In fact, I think most people, regardless of race, don’t have a good way of expressing their concerns. Just think of a way you can address it without putting the other person off on the defensive. Developing a friendship where you can delicately, but honestly, talk about these issues is good, and it can help both of you grow as people.

  • chanela

    umm MN all of us don’t like hip hop/rap. hell i prefer maroon 5 and rave music. LMAO

  • notagoodtime

    I have a simple solution to this issue which is only having black friends.

  • Is there a such thing as being the token guy when you are around nothing but black folks? Im into death, speed and black metal, the occult, horror and gore, xtreme sports and junk like skydiving and bungee jumping but 95% of my friends are black.

    • notagoodtime

      Maybe you should find new friends then.

    • Live_in_LDN

      Fine some friends, regardless of their race, who share the same interests as you.