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.

2 thoughts on “Virtue Signaling and Tokenism”

  1. I’m not an expert on this but I think that being conscious of the issues and relective about your role in them are significant. I try to consider intent as well as impact and let those two be my guide in petsonal relationship as well as a citizen in the spaces that I inhabit.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s