Organizational Tokenism:

The practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.

Individual Tokenism:

On the individual level, a person in the role of a token may feel dehumanized, stereotyped, marginalized, and depersonalized. Quality of life, mental and physical health, and potential for success in the organization may be compromised.

The above is a description of both organizational and individual tokenism.

How often have you heard?

“He’s an AA (affirmative action) candidate.”

I have black and brown friends and family in high powered jobs yet often through racism they are seen as mere tokens. Doesn’t matter if they are highly qualified for that position but the moment white people see a successful black person, it is immediately and wrongly assumed that the person isn’t qualified for the position but got it based on the colour of their skin.

Yet, I have a thought or several thoughts on this matter.

Because of Apartheid, how many white people who are in senior positions are qualified for that position?

Think about it for a minute, you had a qualified experienced black or brown person who couldn’t be promoted because of job reservation for white people only. So, the senior position would be filled with a “lesser” qualified individual because they happen to be white.

White people question black people’s qualifications as if they are always more qualified and that’s not always the case. Some white people don’t have matric (senior certificate) because years ago you could start work with a Grade 10 pass also known as a junior certificate.

That person with the minimum qualifications was then given opportunities for advancement that seems almost meteoric in nature. Yet, black and brown “supervisors” did all the work that white management was meant to do without the salary and title benefits.

It’s like being a Rothschild by an accident of birth. You’re entitled to benefits you never earned. After 1994, it’s not as if those in senior staff members were told to reapply for their positions. They simply stayed and moved further up the corporate ladder, yet black and brown people are tokens?

Do you take an unqualified black or brown person off the street and place them in management positions? Do you advertise that no experience is required and no degree for that particular position?

Of course not! Instead, black and brown people are given a list of criteria which includes a degree or two, subjected to more than two interviews then once they finally have the position, their input is largely disregarded and they are made to feel as if they are the token as if they are not qualified. This is detrimental to their mental and emotional wellbeing because they aren’t being incorporated into the company but rather treated as standalone’s. While inwardly they continue to strive and work extra hard so that white people don’t view them as tokens.

The sad thing is often it’s the other way around. A case in point would be our economists (won’t mention names) who never had the qualifications to be an economist. You need only look at Former US President Barack Obama, who though highly qualified was viewed through racist eyes and found lacking. Compare him to George W. Bush or Donald Trump and who is the token. There are loads of examples in our corporate world in this country.

Just because racism says that black and brown people are tokens, it does not mean they are. Aesthetically they may be treated as such but intellectually and academically it’s a lie.