Episode 7 – Tokenism in literature

In this episode of Doing Diversity in Writing, we—Bethany and Mariëlle—talk about the third common pitfall when representing diverse characters: tokenism.

To listen to the episode, find us on Podbean or your favourite podcast app. 

What we talked about

  • what tokenism is and why it is problematic
  • why characters such as JK Rowling’s Cho Chang are the perfect example of tokenism
  • the custom of turning diverse characters into token sidekicks or “bit-players”
  • how Cassandra Clare avoids tokenism in her Shadowhunter series
  • strategies to prevent tokenism in your fiction writing

Quotes from this week’s episode

“Tokenism is inclusion for the sake of inclusion. It’s not about making any actual changes but about appearances.”

“If we just merely add a few diverse characters to our stories just so our writing looks inclusive, chances are the story doesn’t leave any room for these characters’ lived experiences and realities to be fully investigated. If we only include them to make sure a particular minority is present within our writing so that we look like open-minded and progressive writers, we run the risk of reducing these characters to one-dimensional summaries of what we think their community is like and thinks like.”

“You can add a whole set of characters from the same community, but if they’re all more or less the same and don’t contribute to the plot beyond being their identity marker, if they get to contribute to the plot at all, it’s still tokenism. It’s really about the depth and complexity that a character is allowed to bring with them beyond whatever identity markers they might carry.”

“Proper research into our characters’ cultural, historical and political backgrounds will go a long way in creating more well-rounded characters with a developed background.”

“Even if you only have one character from a particular minority community in your work, allowing them space to be their own person beyond their identity markers will go a long way in making sure they don’t become tokens and in showing the diversity that exists within each and every community.”

(Re)sources mentioned on the show

Please note that this is not the original video of Rachel Rostad performing the slam poem. At the time of uploading this episode, it was no longer available on YouTube.

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