Tokenism and Token Deaf People

Tokenism is defined as:

"The practice of hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups such as women, Black people, Deaf, people, etc. in order to give an appearance of fairness or diversity." -- merged definitions.

The following quotes are also true for audism. Switch from "racism" to "audism".

"Tokenism is, simply, covert racism. Racism requires those in power to maintain their privilege by exercising social, economic and/or political muscle against people of color (POC). Tokenism achieves the same while giving those in power the appearance of being non-racist and even champions of diversity because they recruit and use POC as racialized props." [Source]

Examples in the Wild

Tokenship #1: A hearing owner/creator recruits Deaf/HoH to the positions within an Deaf/ASL-related organization or company and maintains all the power and the share of profit.

Real life scenario: A hearing person sets up an ASL teaching business whether online or offline, whether for-profit or non-profit [cultural appropriation] and then hires Deaf tutors/teachers [tokenized] and some hearing interpreters as ASL tutors/instructors [hearing privilege].

Allyship: Use or support the services of the Deaf-owned businesses, services, websites, and organizations of the Deaf.

Tokenship #2: An example of tokenizing in many Deaf and Hard of Hearing services is a hearing staff being paid while a Deaf person is volunteering. Or, Deaf workers are hired for the lower hierarchical positions.

Hearing paid staff are the "architects and gatekeepers" of what information materials are used to tell or influence students, customers, etc., as they are "filtering through their own privileged lens". It's difficult for hearing ASL teachers to discuss all sorts of --isms in ASL classes that they are in the position of contradictions.

Tokenship #3: "A hearing person hires Deaf for Deaf 'stuff'".

"Tokenism is superficial; it is diversity without a commitment to inclusivity." -- Nicola Reiersen, photographer.

If a Deaf person is hired with the aim of inclusivity and potential future promotions, then it's not tokenism.

Tokenship #4: "A hearing person creates and maintains an organizational culture that promotes Hearing dominance." It can be commonly found in Deaf and Hard of Hearing services.

Tokenship #5: "A hearing person uses Deaf's mouthpiece and shield against other Deaf."

Scenario: A hearing disability service worker refused to accept a Deaf graduate student's request for a videophone in her studio. He used a local deaf person's word, "That Deaf (local) in the Deaf/HoH services agrees with me that TTY is more favorable" [tokenism].

Allyship: Actively listen. A marginalized person doesn't speak for all of her/his marginalized people. Deaf people share common experiences and have common cultural norms but not all share the same views.

PSB Protest
PSB Protest. Credit: JBBYMAC

Tokenship #6: Non-meritocratic unconscious biases.

In 2015, instead of hiring the most qualified applicant who happened to be Deaf [glass ceiling] for the superintendent position of the Provincial Schools for the Deaf in Ontario, they decided to hire the hearing interpreter/educator and created an "assistant" position for the most qualified applicant (rather than the way around). This led to the protest for self-governance. Though, there have been some Deaf principals at Deaf schools in the U.S. before that.

"Diversity requires a change in attitude and mindset, as well as conscious self-check to avoid making decisions based on unconscious biases. Diversity also should not be thought of a standalone program, but rather as a cultural movement”. —Vivien, “What’s Better: Meritocracy or Tokenism?"

Recommended readings

"8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits" by Helen Kim Ho, 2017. . Helen Kim Ho's points in her article parallel very much to Deaf experiences in the hearing non-profit organizations.

"People are Not Props // How to Avoid Tokenism in Your Portfolio" by Nicola Reiersen.

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