Media Representation & Tokenism

We wanted to take a the time to explain why quality media representation is important and also define “tokenism” as it’s probably a new term to a lot of you . We’ll provide examples, share our own experiences and help you to distinguish valuable representation from token trash.

Our good ol’ disclaimers/ warnings/ sidenotes: Okay, we’re speaking from our personal experience/opinions. Some things we may consider “good” representation or examples of tokenism may not align with your personal viewpoint. And that’s OK! We just want our listeners to be able to understand the difference and not be so quick to cheer anytime you see a new black character featured in any given media. Also, media representation and tokenism isn’t only about race. It’s about age, body type, sexuality, gender, ability, and so much more. However, The Satin Bonnet is a race based podcast soooo… Expect a race-centric discussion about tokenism.

Let’s define some shit for you.

Media representation is, as Kiki put it, “seeing someone who represents you and your lifestyle on all forms [of media]….”

a huge part of this is the existence and visibility representation that’s not based in tired stereotypes. But we’ll go into that later. . .

Being there [and] being seen in a way that is not shitty….

Host Tiffy

Some of y’all MF’s (That means motherfuckers by the way ) may be thinking that media representation shouldn’t be a topic of conversation and that it shouldn’t matter… That “it’s just TV”. Let’s talk about a few reasons why representation matters:

  • First, media has the power to perpetuate AND challenge harmful racial stereotypes.
  • Sadly, many Americans don’t have a diverse upbringing and haven’t been exposed to “others” outside of what they see in media.
  • Human beings in general aren’t very good at separating media from reality. This means our media will have an affect on how we interact with others. For instance, some people have a fear of sharks simply due to movies like Jaws despite the extremely low possibility of a shark attack.
  • The lack of characters for one to related to can have just as much of a negative affect on a person as not having actual people in one’s life to relate to.
  • In our society, media is “validating” not in the sense that you should need media validation to feel whole, but , in our society we only showcase what we consider to be important, beautiful, and worthy of being shared.
  • Not being represented can make an individual seem secondary, unworthy, and lack a sense of belonging. (This was mentioned in the episode on patriotism. )

Sooo….. WTF is Tokenism?
As Kiki put it, tokenism is “A minority that was put in media for the sake of appearing ‘diverse’. “.

A quick Google Search defines it as this

It’s basically just throwing the public a hush puppy to keep consumers of any given media from accusing the producers of said media from seeming racist. No production company or crew wants to be known as racist or “out of touch” . Tokenism may also be employed because the creators feel it’ll lead to the group the token was meant to represent to consume the content. Either way it goes, tokenism makes the appearance of blackness in media an after thought and for the benefit of the team creating the media rather than for the overall quality of production.

Well… Why is this an issue?

As mentioned earlier, tokens are not genuine representation. They’re strictly for the interest and protection of their creators. Token characters are slapped together and lack effort in character development. A part key of having representation is having quality representation. Quality representation cannot be accomplished without writers putting real effort into the development of characters. Since a token is just a token , there’s no reason to put effort into development or into how tokens are portrayed.

Often times, tokens are stereotypes. Stereotypes in media act as an easy template for a character. It’s easier for writers to use stereotype template to create a character rather than , well, actually creating one. It’s common for this move to deliver a hint of good ol’ “comedy” to the content. In addition, using stereotype templates align with what audiences perceive as the reality of what black people are thus making the content “realistic” in their eyes . Tokenism directly opposes and reverses the effects of quantity media representation in our society.

Tell us what you think!