I’m Done with Being the Token
2nd March 2017
Born and raised in South Lanarkshire, I’ve lived the entirety of my twenty seven years in Scotland. I attended non-denominational primary and secondary schools (although we were hiked off to church twice a year for Easter and Christmas service), got my play piece from the school tuck shop, started drinking Merrydown and Smirnoff Ice in parks and multi-storey car parks well before the legal age, attended and hosted many an empty and hung out at the GOMA in my teens. At school we penned each other, watch others play chippy and witnessed many a menshy in the making. During my adolescence my friends taught me the lyrics to ‘Evil Scotsman’, episodes of Chewin’ The Fat and Still Game were memorised and golf balls were thrown at the mozzy. I’ve experienced the typical aspects of Scottish culture throughout my years yet due to one very small factor I’m considered the token of my social groups. Yeah, I was born in Rutherglen, I somewhat remember my family’s tartans and I have a wee granny who makes the best shortbread about – but I also have big lips, dark skin and a large afro.
All my life I have been around white people. All my life I have been accepted by white people. All my life a minority of white people have treated me differently due to my mixed heritage. This prejudiced minority group includes, but is not limited to, ex-colleagues, friends, acquaintances, old classmates, previous employers, strangers on the street – you get the point.
I wasn’t properly aware of my race (I was a wee kid after all) until the age of four when I started school and classmates pointed out the ‘irregularity’ of my parents’ interracial relationship (obviously not in those exact words, we were four, but in the brass way kids do – ‘why are you a different colour from your mum? Are you adopted? Are you from Africa?’ ‘Why is your mum white?’ etc). In almost every social circle I’ve been a part of since primary school I have been either one of a few people of ethnic minority or the only non white person, more often than not the latter being the case. In the few social circles that are predominantly people of colour such issues rarely arise. When you are a minority within your own social circles – whether it’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, background – quite often you’re seen by outsiders and at times your own peers, as the ‘token’.
Back during my adolescence when I was heavily struggling with my racial identity I embraced being the token. I would make racially stereotypical jokes at my expense, allow friends to do the same and generally accept casual racist behaviour as ‘the way things are’. Of course if someone was aggressively racist and called me something along the lines of a dirty half cast their face met with my fist – when I approached my twenties I abandoned physical defence methods against verbal attacks. As I made my way through my twenties I started to become more aware of how toxic this behaviour was and began my journey in removing such behaviour from my life wherever I can.
After a recent social occasion in which I was singled out by a friend of a friend who then proceeded to treat me as not just race ambassador for all ethnic minorities and in so many words requested a lesson on racial sensitivity. The sheer ignorance of assuming a single person can speak on behalf of the members of their entire ethnicity while also expecting that person to give you a lesson on racial sensitivity is unbelievably repugnant and degrading. It’s brought me to my most recent revelation – I’m done with being the token ethnic. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s a waste of my time.
I’m fucking done with people thinking that just because they don’t waste energy on shouting racial profanities at friends, colleagues and strangers that they’re not racist. If you make assumptions of someone’s behaviours, interests or attitudes due to their race, you’re still racist.
I’m fucking done with people asking me what the ‘correct terms’ are and ‘How do I avoid using racially insensitive language’. Although they’re trying to come across as being a decent person in the pursuit to not offend it’s really an indication of the little sheltered bubble they’ve created for themselves and just how little they’ve done in regards to integrating with other communities.
I’m fucking done with people thinking that their intoxication is an acceptable excuse for calling me their nigga. Just because you’re drinking with a person of colour does not give you a free pass in using derogatory language. ‘But black people do it’ isn’t an argument for why it should be acceptable for someone to call us that word. Yes, some black people have many uses for this word and use it daily yet there just as many who find it detestable.
I’m fucking done with people ignoring my Scottish heritage and referring to me as their black friend – especially done with people who see no issue in telling me that this is how they refer to me to their other friends.
I’m fucking done with people who treat me as a race ambassador and expect me to answer to the behaviours of black and half black people who I’ve never met or interacted with.
I’m fucking done with people excusing their racist relatives because they come from another time or didn’t grow up with POC. That’s not an excuse but an admittance of their ignorance and unwillingness to change discriminatory behaviour. It’s a somewhat polite way of confirming they’re bigoted.
I’m fucking done with people who don’t experience racism telling me what racism is and how I should feel about it.
I’m fucking done with people telling me I don’t sound black. I’m an mulatto Scot so of course I’m going to sound Scottish, it’s my accent! Surprisingly enough, not all black and half black people sound like Mammy Two Shoes, The Boondocks or any stereotypical black characters in Family Guy.
I’m fucking done with people telling me how I should identify or that they feel I have a chip on my shoulder about my ‘whiteness’. Although, physically, I’m outwardly black I identify as half white and half black. This is how my body naturally developed, I can’t help it if my white heritage isn’t physically visible for others to view.
I’m fucking done with people who deny cultural appropriation. It’s completely different from culture appreciation – “A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”
I’m fucking done with people who refuse to admit the racism prevalent in our society. The fact that it still oppresses millions today in our own nation should be proof enough. Just because it doesn’t affect you or you don’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
I’m fucking done with people who call me racist for calling out racism. It’s not racist to talk about racism, it’s a malicious and unacceptable aspect to life that millions of us endure throughout our lifetime. Due to these experiences we speak out and challenge actual racists regularly.
We’re all in our constant pursuits of happiness and in order to achieve this it seems all too obvious to cut out the toxic aspects to our lives. No longer will I put myself in a situation where I’m treated as the token ethnic but surround myself with woke people, in some attempt to avoid the experience from ever repeating. We all have our reasons for fighting for equality. Amongst other reasons, I want to be seen me as a person and not just as that half black chick with the big afro.
This article first appeared at Kiltr here – and is republished with kind permission.