Inclusivity Versus Diversity: The Problems with Tokenism

 

Updated

It takes a lot to accept who you are as a person, and be proud of it. Especially when who you are or who you want to be is different from the so called norm.

I draw on experiences of moving to a different city for university. To maintain an income, I transferred locations from one to another. The demographics were different from my previous location. Mind you, I’m use to being the only black person in the room, but I have also been surround with a diversity. Within my workplace and it clientele. This wasn’t the case.

I want to state here that ANYONE who is the minority in a situation (be it the only one who is a girl, the only one who went to a high school, the only one who didn’t see a movie everyone is talking about), at some point you have been the odd one out in a situation. Draw on that awkwardness of wanting just to fit in.

So as I was saying, I was the only black staff member. In a staff of about 35-40 members. Thankfully I already knew that job since it was just different the same position from the previous location, so the main transition was adapting to the customers. I would also like to add I was not the only minority working. Within my department, there were 3 other different minorities hired with me as well (two of which didn’t last long).

Any woman knows when you are the only woman in a situation, you develop safeguards to protect you from drawing any undue attention. Blending in and sorts. Be it dress more conservatively, be less ’empathetic’ etc. Any WoC knows their own safeguards; don’t be too ‘ethnic’, speak clearly and plainly as possible, dress in a more “White” manner. So for me it was not using slang, not being too loud, not speaking with my hands, not wearing my hair in its natural curly state (which there is statistically confirmed bias on now, thank God!) and other way to blend in.

Essentially, I needed to be less of myself and be quiet.

When I had to encounters with customers being verbally rude, I was in an awkward position. I was and still am, the longest employed Black staff member at this location, but my position also required an increased level of interaction with customers on a daily basis. So, when I got “Where are you from? No where were you born? No like where were your parents born”, or ” You seem a little dark to have a last name like that” (I have a noticeable European last name), I didn’t know how to approach my superiors because I didn’t want to be seen as a problem, nor did I think they would know how to help.

I felt alone. And again, anyone who works in customer service knows there isn’t must room to dispute with a customer, even when they are being openly rude.

I didn’t want to quit because it was I already had a lot of knowledge about the company and rather not learn a new job while starting university. So I stayed. I also really wanted more diversity within the location. I hoped if I stayed, it would at least encourage other black staff members who were hired to stay on as well.

So I was the token black person. I was called rude and giving attitude (which is quite laughable for anyone that knows me), I was discouraged to wear my hair in braids (which is its own blog rant) and I was the token for visible diversity in the franchise. I was told other Black staff that had been hired in the past just “didn’t last very long”.

I can’t say I hated it completely, but needing a ‘safe space’ to talk to people in the same position as I was needed. It DEFINITELY took a toll on my mental health as well.  There were times where I felt lonely. Being what Shonda Rhimes called “First but Different” has it’s own barriers. She talks in her book Year of Yes about her need to have a support system because she was doing something no one else was.

To be honest the money was good, that’s was the reason I stayed. But I desperately wanted diversity in the location, but being that one token member has its own stress. I think that doesn’t get addressed enough. Breaking a glass ceiling is lonely. So it’s important that ANYONE really, make sure you have the proper support and mental health accessible options. Emotional support from friends and anyone in the same industry is helpful. making sure that you remind yourself that your feelings are valid and concerns you have are valid. It took me some time to realize that and I still have to remind myself of that. But don’t let being the only one deter you from pursuing what you want. Working hard isn’t that only factor to success but it is definitely an important one. Remember to take care of yourself.

(Image from http://www.mikewilson.cc/2011/02/27/capella-how-many-stars/)

Have you ever been the singled out? Comment below with your experiences.

 

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