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Tokenism Post-BLM: Don't Let It Be The Easy Way Out

by Muhammad Hamza Shah about a year ago in activism
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Empty Promises Are No Longer Going To Work For Black & Minority Ethnic People So Please Don't Bother Trying!

Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images | BLM Protest in Manhattan, New York City

"We stand with you in solidarity" 

"We need to bind together during these tumultuous times"

These words were somewhat cathartic for those who wanted to see the burgeoning pot of racial issues being acknowledged. But with most companies scrambling to hide their complicity post-BLM, we saw the same words fall prey to their safety net.

Controlling the narrative has always been the cardinal rule of dealing with a potential "scandal", however, BLM swept the world faster than any other movement. There just wasn't enough time for some individuals, companies and institutions to devise an effective action plan. Ultimately, most of them resorted to sharing run-of-the-mill support messages on their social media accounts. In fact, this would turn out to be their only attempt at sounding mindful of the injustices plaguing our society. 

Fortunately, people were quick to see through the perfunctory nature of this empty rhetoric and complained about the need for robust change. Consequently, tokenism made its appearance (in the subtlest form possible) and organizations successfully influenced the public into believing they had made tangible adjustments. Before we dive further into tokenism, lets first look at how its defined:

"Actions that are the result of pretending to give advantage to those groups in society who are often treated unfairly, in order to give the appearance of fairness" ~ Cambridge English Dictionary

We can put this into context by taking venture capital as an example. Scott Galloway's recent book Post Corona does a phenomenal job of breaking down the lack of diversity in terms of hard-hitting facts. He quoted the racial make-up of people currently employed in venture capital and that put white males at 58%. But then he added that a whopping 98% of venture capital tax dollars are also controlled by these white men. This puts the idea of tokenism into perspective and makes us realize that diversity is somewhat of an ideological construct in the corporate world. 

Following BLM protests across America, several white employers responded with diversity hiring but if this is only limited to junior staff then have we really gained anything?. Similarly, universities could be encouraging dialogue on racial issues but might not be taking an active role in hiring professors from minority ethnic groups or publishing data on the treatment of existing professors from such backgrounds. 

This extends over to individuals such as teachers and doctors as well. If teachers are vocal about preventing racism, they shouldn't feel uncomfortable in case of a debate in class. Doctors need to be aware of dermatological issues that pertain to dark-skinned individuals. Not only should this be taught during medical school but it also needs to be a part of training curricula for different specialties. 

Malone Mukwende, a medical student from London, struggled quite a bit with obtaining study material on the aforementioned subject. He then went on to publish a handbook for students, explaining how to diagnose skin conditions in black & minority ethnic patients. Mukwende detailed his experience by saying: 

"I realised that the problem may lay in the fact that we're not often taught on darker skins. So that's where I knew that I kind of had to do something to address this problem, because there was nothing that I could see being done."

In short, there is no denying that BLM is a pivotal moment in history but there is a lot of change yet to be seen. We CAN'T settle for fake promises, especially in this age, and we need make it clear that we WON'T.


About the author

Muhammad Hamza Shah

Medical Student | Trying to discover my forte in writing while snoozing over lofty medical textbooks.

Instagram: @anatomical.medic

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