Jackson, on Tokenization

Questions of Multiculturism (Bottom of Page 3)

“In fact, tokenization goes with ghettoization. These days, I am constantly invited to things so I will present the Third World point of view; when you are perceived as a token, you are also silenced in a certain way because, as you say, if you have been brought there it has been covered, they needn’t worry about it anymore, you salve their conscience.” 

When I first read the above passage, I understood what Gayatri Spivak was trying to say – that being tokened, in a sense, could lead to your problems going ignored. But I didn’t believe her, or follow the logic behind her clam. After all, doesn’t being featured/tokened mean that your community’s plights are highlighted? 

To say that “featured speakers” are only spectacles is a bold claim. And furthermore, it would stand to reason that the types of organizations/conferences who would seek out a “third-world perspective” on a matter, would certainly be inclined to seriously consider it — right? 

After reading Spivak’s whole article (or, rather, the excerpt of it which we were assigned,) I found the “tokenization claim” even more baffling. The rest of Spivak’s argument was solid, and her words poignant and moving. So, I decided to re-read the above passage, and try to understand her point of view. I wanted to agree with her, seeing as her article was so insightful and thoughtful. 

I started by googling “ghettoization,” figuring that it was a made-up word. It’s not. Ghettoization, according to Merriam Webster, is “the process of isolating in or as if in a ghetto.” This definition makes sense; someone who is chosen to speak solely because they represent a marginalized group of people, is certainly being outcast. But how does being and outcast automatically make you ignored? I reflected on this for a few minutes, and I came up to the conclusion that it doesn’t. 

And Gayatri Spivak isn’t trying to say that she’s always ignored. She’s trying to say that when she presents a viewpoint from an “outcasted group,” then the group is no longer outcasted; once that group’s point of view is out in the open, and heard, then it’s no longer a “marginalized group.” And people, resultantly, will put in less effort into solving the group’s plight. 

This passage answers (the 2-week-old) question of “can you have a discussion on a topic without every viewpoint being discussed?”. Yes, you can; because discussed viewpoints don’t need to be seriously thought about. Sometimes, words just fall on deaf ears. 

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