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Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce. The effort of including a token employee to a workforce is usually intended to create the impression of social inclusiveness and diversity (racial, religious, sexual, etc.) in order to deflect accusations of social discrimination.
The social concept and the employment practice of tokenism became understood in the popular culture of the United States in the late 1950s. In the book Why We Can't Wait, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. discussed the subject of tokenism, and how it constitutes a minimal acceptance of black people to the mainstream of U.S. society.
In 1963, when asked about the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, human rights activist Malcolm X answered, “What gains? All you have gotten is tokenism — one or two Negroes in a job, or at a lunch counter, so the rest of you will be quiet.”
In the field of psychology, the broader definition of tokenism is a situation in which a member of a distinctive category is treated differently from other people. The characteristics that make the person of interest a token can be perceived as either a handicap or an advantage, as supported by Václav Linkov. In a positive light, these distinct people can be seen as experts in their racial/cultural category, valued skills, or a different perspective on a project. On the other hand, tokenism is most often seen as a handicap due to the ostracism of a selected sample of a minority group.
Tokenism, in a television setting, can be any act of putting a minority into the mix to create some sort of publicly viewed diversity. Originally stemming from the first television show that hired minorities, the Amos 'n' Andy in 1943, there has been a racial divide in TV since. Regardless of whether a token character may be stereotypical or not, tokenism can initiate a whole biased perceived sense of thought that may conflict with how people see a specific race, culture, gender, or ethnicity. From the Huffington post, America Ferrera states, “Tokenism is about inserting diverse characters because you feel you have to; true diversity means writing characters that aren’t just defined by the color of their skin, and casting the right actor for the role."  In contrast, people of color can subjectively receive a beneficial position just off the basis of them being a minority. In The restaurant study, Donald G. Dutton states that when a person of color enters a restaurant, they have a significantly higher chance of being served than whites that entered first, henceforth creating a condition of reverse discrimination. Tokenism in television has been spoken about under a different umbrella in today's time. For example, tokenism was analyzed in an article that examined actions in the television show scandal. Though today there are many black main characters in many popular television shows, Stephanie L. Gomez's article speaks about Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Gomez compares the character of Olivia Pope to three tropes of Black women, The slave mistress, The help, and The Jezebel. In the early 1990s Shows like Martin, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air were strategies that were used to capitalize from an underrepresented group, namely the black community in television at the time. Networks allowed the shows to be black-produced and have all-black casts. This strategy was used because at the time the black viewership didn't have many shows made specifically for them, and networks used this tactic to capitalize. Networks knew that many black people would purchase televisions and cable subscriptions if there were more people like them on the television, this is also conveyed tokenism.
In the media
Tokenism in the media just like television has changed over time to coincide with real life events. During the years of 1946-87 the weekly magazine New Yorker was analyzed to determine how often and in what situations were blacks being portrayed in the magazines cartoon section. Over the 42 years of research, there was only one U.S black main character in a cartoon where race was not the main theme, race was actually completely irrelevant. All cartoons from the earliest times depicted U.S blacks in stereotypic roles. In the late 1960s and early 1970s cartoons were mostly racial themed, and depicted blacks in "token" roles where they are only there to create a sense of inclusiveness.
In the workplace
Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter asserts that the token employee is usually part of a socially-skewed group of employees who belong to a minority group that composes less than 15 percent of the total employee population of the workplace. By definition, token employees in a workplace are few; hence, their heightened visibility among the staff subjects them to greater pressures to perform their work to higher production standards of quality and volume and to behave in an expected, stereotypical way. Given the smallness of the group of token employees in a workplace, the individual identity of each token person is usually disrespected by the dominant group, who apply a stereotype role to them as a means of social control in the workplace.
Research comparing the effects of gender and race tokenism on individuals indicates that the practice of tokenism can accurately predict conditions in the workplace for members of racial minorities.
According to one study, racial minorities also experience heightened performance pressures related to their race and gender; however, many reported that racial problems were more common than gender problems.
In her work on tokenism and gender, Kanter said that the problems experienced by women in typically male-dominated occupations were due solely to the skewed proportions of men and women in these occupations.
In politics, allegations of tokenism may occur when a political party puts forward candidates from under-represented groups, such as women or racial minorities, in races that the party has little or no chance of winning, while making limited or no effort to ensure that such candidates have similar opportunity to win the nomination in races where the party is safe or favoured. The "token" candidates are frequently submitted as paper candidates, in which a person is placed on the ballot solely to make sure the political party has a candidate in the race even if that candidate has almost no chance of actually winning, while the more competitive nature of the candidate selection process in winnable seats continues to favour members of the majority group.
The end result of such an approach is that the party's slate of candidates maintains the appearance of diversity, but members of the majority group remain overrepresented in the party's caucus after the election — and thus little to no substantive progress toward greater inclusion of underrepresented groups has actually occurred.
In fiction, a token character exists only to achieve minimal compliance with the normality presumed for the society described in the story. Writers also use the token character to pay lip service to the rules and the standards that they do not abide, such as by obeying anti-racism policies, by including a token ethnic-minority character who has no true, narrative function in the plot and is usually a stereotype character.
In fiction, token characters represent groups which vary from the norm (usually defined as a white, heterosexual male) and are otherwise excluded from the story. The token character can be based on ethnicity (i.e. black, Hispanic, Asian), religion (i.e. Jewish, Muslim), sexual orientation (i.e. homosexual), or gender (typically a female character in a predominantly male cast). Token characters are usually background characters, and, as such, are usually disposable, and are eliminated from the narrative early in the story, in order to enhance the drama, while conserving the "normal" white characters.
In much contemporary cinema and television, the inclusion of token characters is usually and implausibly seen in historical settings where such a person's race would be immediately noticed. Typically, other characters tend to treat the token characters as though they were not concerned with their race or ethnicity. Notable exceptions to this practice include stories based in history and stories that address racism directly. The South Park character Token Black is a reference to this.
British films and TV programmes might include a token American character, sometimes in situations where the presence of an American would have been unlikely, in order to appeal to viewers in the U.S., e.g. the character "Agar" in The First Great Train Robbery (1979), and character of "Flt. Lt. Carrington" in the first series of Colditz (1972), about British prisoners of war, during the Second World War (1939–45).
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