Token Negress Alert
Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Renee and my blog is Womanist Musings. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to blog here and share some of the ideas that I have with a new audience. I am not known to mince words, so if you find my style abrupt oh well, I will not be policed. WOC have had our voices silenced for far too long for me too worry about anyone’s delicate sensibilities.
I would like to discuss something that I have come to refer to as the token Negro, or in the case of feminism the token Negress. All social movements have one thing in common; they must present a diverse progressive image publicly even if the hierarchy of the organization does not actually reflect a fair distribution of power. Ironically it is the least oppressed group – whiteness, that has become the face of oppression. Whether it is gay rights, fat acceptance, disability rights or feminism, you can guarantee the closer you get to a leadership position the whiter the faces become.
Maintenance of the power structure requires a token Negress, unless you can call on a black person, or a POC to play the role of the “diversity being” the obviousness of the exclusion is difficult to hide. What we see over and over again is the same pet blacks who have learned to speak the language of submission repeatedly being created as experts and given the authority to speak on behalf of POC by white people. Think that about for a moment…permission to speak on behalf of POC by white people.
This puts WOC in an untenable position. On one hand working towards social justice does provide its own reward; however continually being devalued is a constant reminder of exactly how racist society is. We have become accustomed to having our ideas shot down only to have them rephrased by a white person and immediately praised. We must walk a delicate balance between maintaining the little power we have and hiding from view the truth of our emotions and thoughts. Even speaking bluntly is often enough to illicit the charge that we are angry. Whiteness only wants us to be present for long enough to make the coffee and smile pretty for the camera. Say cheese everyone.
Even as we are being used to promote an atmosphere of diversity, we are well aware, but the only other option available to WOC is to fade into oblivion. We work diligently muting our rage in the hopes that one day the world will recognize that we are women, and that we are human too. Feminism has much invested in maintaining the status quo. Though some white women step forward for their daily bit of self flagellation, and depreciating commentary, in truth few are willing to listen with an open heart. We hear the “I am a white woman but” commentary daily. There is always a proviso, some need to insert the word but, as though there is any form of legitimization for the current imbalance in power. Somehow they can understand what it means to be silenced by relating it to their experiences of privilege. Somehow they can imagine what it is like being asked to speak on behalf of your people and then told that what you have to say is not good enough.
We are expected to be happy playing the role of token Negress because on some level we are supposedly being heard. The ethnic representative role is just as binding as being created as invisible because on one hand something needs to be said to represent black woman,but what we are allowed to express in these spaces does not close to the reality of our experiences. It allows no room for truthfulness and no room to challenge the status quo. The token negress ends up performing her race and gender in the hopes that at some point truth will be allowed to reign supreme. This is a role that at some point most black women will be asked to play. It preserves whiteness as good and powerful while relegating us to a mouth piece for hire.