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:
1. Certain topics make you uncomfortable to discuss with friends of different races.
Did Trayvon Martin bring his shooting upon himself? Is “Mr. Obama” treated differently by the media because he’s black? These are just a few headlines that bring up some serious race issues and could potentially result in some hurt feelings if someone says the wrong thing. If you put extra effort into being politically correct just to keep the peace, it may be because you truly don’t have faith in their tolerance.
2. You find yourself biting your tongue especially when talking about stereotypes.
Like popular opinions on the latest news, the stereotypes people choose to believe in or throw around carelessly say a lot about their character. It’s one thing for an uneducated comment to slip like, “Is your hair real? I thought all black girls wore weave,” because sometimes other races really don’t know. But if they aren’t making any effort to educate themselves, it could be because they don’t want to know.
3. Your friends regularly look to you when they have questions about black culture as a whole.
In a world of Google and Wikipedia there is no reason why anyone shouldn’t have some exposure to African-American culture or feel that their only source for black history (or present for that matter) is their one black friend. You shouldn’t feel the need to be a walking, talking afro-wearing, peace-signing authority on Black History.
4. You’re the go to girl for one of the following for your friends: the comic relief, the bouncer, or the one with the attitude.
The worst part about being a token is that you’re limited to one of three categories: you’re busting dirty jokes like Chris Rock, threatening someone’s life or cussing someone out for messing up your drink order. Your race doesn’t designate your role in the group.
5. You find yourself always second-guessing your friends’ intentions when they make references to race.
I remember going out to dinner once with my college roommates whom I hadn’t lived with for very long. During appetizers and casual conversation one of them blurted out, “You’re nice for a black girl,” and immediately realizing the indirect insult try to recover with, “Well, not like that. You know what I mean.” Did I think she was racist? Not necessarily. Did I look at her a little differently from that day forward? Yes. I guess what she meant is that most of her experiences with black girls had been neck-rolling and finger-snapping. We all have stereo-types that we’ve repeatedly witnessed proved true, but you shouldn’t have to inspect everything your friends say for hidden racism.
6. Your friends assume that in the event of a confrontation or poor customer service, you’ll be the one to get hostile and rude.
When, “Can I see the manager?” doesn’t work there are some people who will look to the black girl to get it crunk to get some decent customer service. They feel like they can count on her to get loud and belligerent and if that fails, play the race card so that they call can get a free meal. You’re not the bully or bodyguard for your friends just because you’re black.
7. Your friends talk normally until you’re around and they turn into the Urban Dictionary complete with phrases like, “What’s up, dog?” and “Fo shizzle, girlfriend” with neck rolling and gum popping to match.
So maybe they’re not straight from an In Living Color sketch, but if your friends feel the need to switch up their word choices to appear “down” when you come around, then they’re clearly close minded about how black people act and talk. We don’t all sound like Lil’ Scrappy, and that’s fo’ shiznayee.
8. Discussing anything that has to do with hair maintenance is like talking about nuclear physics to kindergartners.
For the first few meetings they might actually be curious, but if you have to present every style or texture switch like it’s show and tell, I’m going to need your friends to get a grip and a subscription to Hype Hair. It’s dead protein not a souvenir from the lunar landing.
9. You find yourself limited to rave parties and Maroon 5 concerts and no one ever wants to join you in the hip hop room at the club.
They don’t have to back it up in Dougie as soon as the beat drops, but if you’re willing to rock out to Fun’s “Tonight We Are Young” the least any true friend can do is listen to a little Nas or Jay-Z even if it’s not completely their speed. No matter how rhythm-less or awkward they appear, open-minded friends will find a way to fist-pump to some Maybach Music if they respect your different interests.
10. They only want to party on their side of town.
Although some people will come to Philly to work or even go to school, unfamiliar neighborhoods at night are a no-no. It’s like they believe when the sun goes does down certain neighborhoods turn in to a free for all with rapists running wild and daily gang wars. Some neighborhoods aren’t safe, but crime can happen anywhere and real friends will trust that you would never lead them somewhere where their lives are at risk. If they don’t feel comfortable with where you come from, then on some level they’re not really comfortable with you.
What are some challenges you face with having white friends?
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .