Virtue Signaling and Tokenism

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about virtue signaling and tokenism.

As a white person, much of what I can say about race is almost necessarily virtue signaling or apparent tokenism. Even saying something like “Racism is horrible but I’ve been a racist” functions as a kind of woke signal.

I have come to feel that a) everything I can do falls or appears to fall into one of these categories in some way and b) trying too hard *not* to fall into these categories is almost worse than falling into them….because that comes back to not wanting to be construed a certain way. The problem with tokenizing is that it’s a way of wanting to appear non-racist. The problem with virtue signaling is that it, too, is wanting to appear non-racist to the outside world. So, the problem with trying too hard not to tokenize or virtue signal, as I see it, is also…not wanting to appear to be superficial or a “fake ally” to the outside world.

The fact is that social media and blogging are, by definition, public (or at least semi-public) displays. That is just what they are. Nothing makes its way onto your feed if you didn’t put it there with the intent that it be seen.

That is the power and problem with social media.

The problem side is, to a degree, pretty inherent to the medium. Any “good deed” or woke thought you post for the world to see is a kind of virtue signaling. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the whole point. Our sense of virtue can be influenced by the people we love or admire, so it can be valuable to come out publicly with some indication of our values.

Tokenizing could probably be seen as a specific way to virtue signal. That’s where you include or represent someone who is black or LGBTQ or fat or a woman or disabled just to show that you care about those minority groups…or rather, that you want to be seen as caring about them.

Personally, I think that representation and visibility are almost as important for our world and society as anything else. Real visibility brings love and pulls down barriers. Respectful and meaningful visibility opens communication lines. Visibility and representation can cut across party lines and ideologies and change hearts.Which means that the kind of social media content I believe to be the most impactful will also look like tokenization.

I have not been accused of tokenization. The truth is that I don’t post enough from people with different experiences and backgrounds than I have. I post a lot about health issues and disability, because they are familiar to me and because I have a better sense of just how stigmatized living with those can be, just by virtue of my experience. I also would say I have a fair amount of experience with sexism, but I generally feel that sexism is pretty well documented and understood. I don’t feel compelled to write about it as often, at least relatively speaking.

But frankly, I think it would be better if I *did* do more things that could look like tokenism, because visibility is one of the great strengths of social media. Obviously my social media sphere is rather cozy and small, but perhaps that is a plus in its own right. I know that, as a woman and half of an interabled couple, I wouldn’t mind if people engaged in more “apparent tokenism” about women and people with disabilities or interabled couples, insofar as that means making a point of representing them in movies or books or sharing their message. I’d love to see a photo of someone sitting at a coffee shop saying, “Just enjoying Shane Burcaw’s memoir, “Strangers Assume My Girlfriend is My Nurse” and a cappuccino.” I’d love to see a picture of a little boy cheering at a women’s basketball game, and the more often, the better.

I’m not saying stick minorities into roles as extras and call it a day. I am saying, (at least to myself), that there’s value in both seeking and sharing videos and books and messages created by and about people with a variety of different backgrounds, particularly those that aren’t generally featured in my media stream. I’m always happier for doing so, and I’ve found some of my favorite writers and artists while having diversity in mind.

Anyway, that’s been on my mind. Maybe it’s been on your mind too. I’m down for hearing more perspectives about it.

A Portrait of the Writer’s Husband

This is Michael.

Michael takes his son to the playground most mornings.

Michael laughs at Lizzie’s jokes and lets her interrupt his work to show him pictures she has drawn. (Lizzie sometimes feels guilty about this).

Michael, in general, does not interrupt Lizzie when she is drawing pictures or reading books or thinking deeply about what books she hasn’t read but would like to. 

Michael’s favorite meals are Chaboni yogurt, a cheese and tomato panini, or chocolate milk and quesadillas.

Michael eats the corn on the cob that Lizzie makes almost every night, even though it isn’t his favorite. 

Michael likes all of Lizzie’s Facebook posts, even though Lizzie only sees a few of Michael’s posts, and only likes the ones she understands. (Lizzie recognizes she could probably understand most of them if she tried. She feels guilty about this).

Michael doesn’t eat avocado because it makes his throat itchy and tense, but when he eats it anyway, he smiles.

Michael knows the way to In-N-Out.

Michael beats Lizzie at Scrabble every time.

Michael turns the AC on for cool air and white noise before Lizzie puts the toddler to bed.

Michael brings Lizzie lunch during class when she forgets breakfast.

Michael helps Lizzie find her glasses when they are on her head.

Michael helps Lizzie find the toddler when she forgets that she is holding him.

Michael tells Lizzie if she has a text so that she doesn’t need to own a phone, which Lizzie appreciates very much.

Michael shares his favorite yogurt with the toddler.

Michael takes out the trash.

Michael doesn’t mind that Lizzie doesn’t take out the trash, or at least he doesn’t say anything.

Michael compliments Lizzie when she does the dishes.

Michael compliments the lawn after Lizzie gives it a bad haircut with scissors. It is a very small lawn.

Michael compliments Lizzie when she gives him haircuts, and does not bring up the very bad haircut she once gave him.

Michael gives the toddler his vitamin in the morning.

Michael tells Lizzie that the toddler has already had his vitamin when the toddler asks for another before bed. 

Michael sometimes gives the toddler a chocolate sandwich in the morning.

Michael does not always tell Lizzie that he gave the toddler a chocolate sandwich in the morning. They are very small sandwiches.

Michael walks the same pace as Lizzie, which is more leisurely than average, except when Lizzie is anxious or running behind.

Michael takes many naps, but for short periods of time.

Michael likes hand massages from Lizzie.

Michael takes the toddler to the babysitter when Lizzie wants to sleep in.

Michael wakes up before the toddler, which is saying something.
Sometimes, when Lizzie does not want to get up in the morning, Michael brings her chocolate and slides it gently between her teeth.

Be like Michael.

More pictures

These days, I’ve been making a daily doodle and posting them on Facebook and Instagram. It’s more manageable and helpful (I’m finding) than trying to tackle bigger projects right now. If you want to follow, feel free, though I’ll probably post them in batches on here every once in a while πŸ™‚ stay safe and sane!