Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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.

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Posted in: Musings | | 17 Comments

17 Thoughts on Token Negress Alert | Leave a Comment

  1. skyewriter says:

    As a Ph.D. candidate with a secondary area in Women's Studies I would greatly appreciate any good reading materials you could offer on the topic of your post. I have read most of what the white women have had to say: Butler, Cixous, Chodorow, Martin, Wittig, etc. In our Minority Rhetorics class the only women of color we read were Lisa Delpit, bell hooks, Paula Gunn Allen and Audre Lorde.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. judith says:

    Tell it like it is, there's no other way to be.

  3. modern mom says:

    Hi Renee! May the new year bring an abundance of love, peace and good health. Happy New Year!!!

    Thanks for stopping by my blgo and for leaving a comment.

  4. You introduce yourself well, conveyed all about yourself and your restrictions being a “nigress”. I don't look at colors. I look at the totality of a person. There is no way we can be morally upright by mere looking at the color of the skin. But I salute your being frank. I find you a “fighter” in the real sense of the world. Use that “fighter” thing to help the needy.

  5. Hi Renee! May the new year bring an abundance of love, peace and good health. Happy New Year!!!

    Thanks for stopping by my blgo and for leaving a comment.

  6. Julie says:

    So what is your proposed solution? Because I'm really tired of reading negativity. We know racism is a problem, what can we DO about it?

    • Personally I advocate micro activism and encouraging people to own their privileges.

      • nena says:

        Hello womanistmusings! How are you? I wonder if I could ask you something? I’m from the third world, and I’ve been reading the most I can recently about racism, sexism, transphobia in english-american blogs, basically because I found loads and loads of material that I didn’t find in spanish. Also seeking for answers, because I always was taught that civil rights were in better shape in the North. Well… The thing is that when I wanted to see what american activists suggest to do to change things I didn’t found clear answers, I wanted to compare how things are done in other countries to see, well, if there were information that could be useful to replicate here. So, most of the things I found give this suggestion you gave (micro activism and encouraging people to own their privileges), plus commentaries about the role of the media (demanding the media to stop reinforcing stereotypes, etc). I wanted to ask you if you have an opinion about the role of the State and their institutions (the School, the health institutions).
        Can the state be held accountable for being discriminative?
        Because something we discuss here is that we need to change the way everything is taught, from teaching from a modern european perspective ( it would be necessary to challenge modern thinking that gives kids the idea that you can logically calculate and measure and classify everything and everyone); and the way history tells always the Western-european story, how we are not told about the black people, the original people who did great things for our history, the way the privilege system works, why some sectors of society are oppressed, and many many other things. And also the importance of having education available for everyone for free in every level and having good public hospitals. While these things are discussed it’s very difficult to do, because. You know. It’ll take a lot of struggle and such.
        But I wanted to ask because I haven’t found much material on this subject and I wanted to know if this is discussed as a possible outcome? Because people seem to focus in calling out bigotry and demanding the media to stop reinforcing stereotypes; and I wonder if the state shouldn’t be fullfilling their obligation of listening to their people and assuring their safety by educating massively everyone to not be a racist/sexist/transphobic/ableist/homophobic/classist through the school, and whatever means available. Is this not considered something viable or is it considered a bad idea? Or hasn’t this been discussed much? Do you think that it would be possible someday to demand the state changes the education system to teach about privilege? To make people understand their privileges?
        I’m really sorry if this is too long or out of the blue. It’s just that I haven’t found conversations on this, and people I have asked either don’t know or think it’s impossible.

  7. I don't look at colors. I look at the totality of a person.

    Do you have swampland that you wish to sell me as well. No person no matter how anti-racist lives a life where they do not “see”colour.

    Use that “fighter” thing to help the needy.
    “The needy” why is the way I am using my voice not good enough for you? Black women represent one of the most marginalized groups in society.

  8. On the topic of tokenism in feminism I could not list a particular reference. In this instance I was speaking from an experiential position while combining some of the work of hooks, Lourde and HIll.

  9. Nice introduction. Color is not the measure of a human's capabilities. So many people have proven that. Good luck to you and more blogs to come!

  10. Music Man says:

    feminism is a sensetive issue. the article is awesome. thanks for it.

  11. mouse says:

    I don't look at colors. I look at the totality of a person.

    Um, color- with all the history, culture, baggage and beauty- is a part of the totality of a person. We white women need to acknowledge that if we're going to take any real steps towards lifting the oppression of our sisters.

    You probably meant to come across as accepting a person beyond their skin, but what comes across (with good reason) is asking not to have to deal with the realities of another woman's blackness. When we white women do this we are asking our sisters to support us and our causes while not addressing their oppressions that we don't think we share.

    Just reread what Renee said, she put it eloquently and with the voice of true experience.

  12. Report Scam says:

    Happy new year 2009 everyboday :)

  13. good article.look forwarding from you.come on

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