Tokenism Hurts Everyone
It was 5-6 years ago when I got a phone call from someone. They were discussing the merits of “working from the inside” to change an organization. At the time, I just felt frustrated because it was pure tokenism and everyone knew it but the person it was happening to. Or maybe he knew too. He since learned his lesson, but the impact has had a long lasting effect.
Last year, some new claims of tokenism have popped up. Again, with the same organization. Are they bringing on autistic people to say “Look! We do have autistic people.” but then not listen to them? Or is there a meaningful shift happening to mean they’re actually going to value the input of their new autistic people? Who knows… Time will tell.
But I bring this up not to talk about tokenism on a large scale, but tokenism in general and in your backyard and maybe with you. These are just examples of a larger problem where it’s the fashionable thing to have a disabled person on staff, in the audience, as a friend. The real driver though is why is that disabled person there. Is it to make yourself feel better? Are you taking their input? Are their needs being met? Are you gaining more from their presence than they are gaining?
If the answer is yes, then you have a token disabled person.. A token autistic person. And it’s not cool. Because you’re hurting yourself.. You’re hurting your cause.. and worst of all, you’re hurting that disabled person. It’s taken me many days to come up with the fact that I have become a token for someone. It hurts to come to that realization because I want to believe, heck, I know, this person is just trying to be a good person and do the right thing. But it has come at the expense of my well-being.
I wish I had some solid ways to identify tokenism. I know they’re out there.. But this experience has left me quite aware of the fact that I’m not equipped to recognize it when I’m the token. If anyone has any ways to help me recognize it for next time, I’d really love to hear them.