Tokenization is Oppression’s Most Powerful Weapon: My Thoughts on Storify

Tokenization is Oppression’s Most Powerful Weapon

The other day, I was reflecting on tokenization and shared a few of my thoughts. I often tweet when I should be writing, which is why storify is a great tool for someone like me who’s very busy, and doesn’t always have time (read: procrastinates) to write full essays.

Storified by Spectra Speaks · Sat, May 19 2012 14:34:47

The folks at @openforum2012 (OSISA) asked me to share my thoughts as it’s relevant to the conference they’re convening in Capetown next week. So, you have them to thank (or chastize) for my stream of consciousness. 
My ppl are excluded, I speak on it, powers that be try to silence me, give up once they realize it won’t work, deploy tokenization insteadSpectra Speaks
Tokenization is one of my biggest gripes; and I’m not just talking about the ridiculous idea of having one person rep an entire group…Spectra Speaks
Tokenization fragments communities. It is the tactic that is deployed once the powers that be realize we won’t shut up — divide and conquerSpectra Speaks
Tokenization is how our unity is tested; can we stand together in the face of oppressors throwing scraps at our feet for us to fight over?Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is tricky because it’s often presented as a solution i.e. "we’re trying." And so we’re guilted into accepting it. RESIST.Spectra Speaks
Beyond the obvious fact that we shouldn’t expect one person to represent entire communities, #tokenization is a sedative of a solution.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is the reason many white people have the audacity to suggest the US is now "post-racial" a la "Obama is black." No.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is the reason the mainstream gay community thinks #ChazBono celebdom means there’s no more transphobia.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization is a sedative, not a solution.Spectra Speaks
#Tokenization attempts to create the illusion of progress; it ridicules our demands for change with examples of those "who made it"Spectra Speaks
But #tokenization can be confusing; how to distinguish between a small step towards progress we can support, and a downright lie?Spectra Speaks
And so we scratch our heads, fight amongst ourselves because we can’t agree on whether or not we believe the lie #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
#Tokenization dulls our senses, distorts our view of who the real enemy is; we’re blinded, and so begin to swing blindly at our brethren.Spectra Speaks
Meanwhile, the powers at be proceed w/ their agenda, the task of silencing us conveniently delegated to our brethren. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Amidst the noise, some of us will realize what is happening, and pause. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
See the they’re not winning through force anymore; they can’t. They’re winning by making us fight over limited resources. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
I have three cats. Three feeding stations. When I get lazy, and fill just one, something very familiar happens… #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
My cats start to hiss and swipe at each other in an attempt to reach the first bowl quicker than the others… #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
This ‘movement’ thing is getting to me. I now see my communities reflected in hissing and spitting among my hungry cats. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
The thing is… they’re not just cats. I’m pretty sure if they banded together in anger I’d be in serious trouble. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Unity only works if we stand together, no matter what. Not a single one of us should ever break the line to reach for scraps #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Maybe a holding a ‘line’ over simplifies what unity means, at least to me. We’re not all shackled in the same way. #tokenization #privilegeSpectra Speaks
When you "hold the line" in battle, there’s an entire camp of people behind you. We’re protecting/advocating for each other. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
Moral of the story: We need to hold the line. But we can’t hold the line if we’re running the same shit camp as our oppressors #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
We can’t be united if we’re so quick to reach for scraps, leave others behind because those w/ privilege decide agenda. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
We cannot resist the fragmenting impact of #tokenization at any level, until we learn to see ourselves as privileged in some way.Spectra Speaks
For #tokenization to work, it depends on many of us submitting to being victims all the time; prioritizing OUR needs just to survive.Spectra Speaks
Perhaps this means I should finish my essay about what we can learn about #tokenization from visiting the zoo?Spectra Speaks
A few others on Twitter chimed in to echo some of my thoughts, including two of my favorite African Feminists, MsAfropolitan and the founder of 419Positive. In particular, we’d chatted about the lack of visibility (in male-dominated Nigerian and western media) of Nigerian women in the occupy movement a few months prior, which quickly spiraled into a divisive debate between African women on the continent and the Diaspora living abroad. 
Now reading @spectraspeaks #tokenization tweets. Powerful truthful words. #AfrifemMinna Salami
@spectraspeaks @MsAfropolitan Thanks. Puts the disagreement over ‘missing’ women at #OccupyNigeria into context. #tokenization #Afrifemrmajayi
@spectraspeaks @MsAfropolitan Minna & others had questioned the absence of women as evidenced in the photos available #tokenization #Afrifemrmajayi
@spectraspeaks @MsAfropolitan on ground. The women felt Minna, others had no place to ‘criticise’ because they were abroad. #tokenizationrmajayi
Meanwhile, the men had somehow weasled their way out of the conversation. Someone saw the twitter debate happening, and scrounged up some pictures to post, effectively suggesting that our questioning had been unwarranted, invalidating our concern. “See!? They’re women here!” And the women chimed in, too.
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks Yup. Women can be staunch defenders of patriarchy& villainize women who disrupt gender "harmony".also #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks Re the occupy tweets I jumped into a convo that was already taking place #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks & jumped out when it became clear that folks wanted 2 attack ‘abroadians’ rather than focus on d issue #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks What felt important was 2 prevent the #tokenization western media would bring by debating gender roles…Minna Salami
@rmajayi @spectraspeaks …in the protests before that convo took place amongst Nigerians themselves #tokenizationMinna Salami
@rmajayi @MsAfropolitan One of the effects of #tokenization: advocacy sounds like criticism, provoking defensiveness, quarrel within groupsSpectra Speaks
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi No one wants to feel like their value is being reduced to puppetry by the oppressor. Hence #tokenization is tricky.Spectra Speaks
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi Important to have convos that don’t instigate the blame game. Fighting each other means we lose. #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi Yes, I like that point you made. & not only privilege; can be misused as #tokenization in itself. Honesty, allroundMinna Salami
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi How to foster such dialogue? Think one thing is to be aware of tensions within ourselves we all have #tokenizationMinna Salami
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi Agreed. Tweeted earlier abt acknowledging privilege within "the line" to work towards real solidarity #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi & that we speak to each other from. Who can claim ownership? #tokenizationMinna Salami
@MsAfropolitan @rmajayi Man, I don’t think Twitter can hold all the feelings I have about #diaspora abroad vs. home tensions #tokenizationSpectra Speaks
@spectraspeaks @rmajayi Yes, I like that point you made. & not only privilege; can be misused as #tokenization in itself. Honesty, allroundMinna Salami
@spectraspeaks So true, same. I’m looking fwd to having these conversations in the flesh next week. Stay tuned @rmajayi #tokenizationMinna Salami
Let’s continue the conversation. Follow me @spectraspeaks and share your thoughts on #tokenization

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s rights activist, and the voice behind the African feminist media blog, Spectra Speaks, which publishes global news and opinions about all things gender, media, diversity, and the Diaspora.

She is also the founder of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (, a media advocacy and publishing organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer, and/or transgender women of color, diaspora, and other racial/ethnic minorities around the world.

Follow her tweets on diversity, movement-building, and love as a revolution on Twitter @spectraspeaks.