Last week, I had the privilege of attending a fundraiser for one of my good friends’ brother, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. (Side note: follow his journey to recovery by liking his Facebook page, Noah Strong and be on the lookout for the hashtag #NoahStrong.) I received the invite on Facebook for live music, drinks and positive vibes in downtown Matthews. I didn’t even know Matthews had a downtown area, so I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint little string of shops that ended in a cul-de-sac with an area for pop-up shops and a gazebo where the live music would be.
I was most looking forward to seeing my friend play music for the first time. After a couple beers, I snagged a patch of grass and waited for her to start. As she began to strum her guitar, I realized I wasn’t familiar with the songs she was playing. Until she said, “We’re going to play a little Rihanna for you!” And I began screaming at the top of my lungs until I realized I was the only one screaming... I looked around and realized I was the only black person in the immediate area. Yep, I was yet again, the token.
If you’re unfamiliar with term, it usually refers to the one person in a group of people that is a minority. You know the joke about how in horror movies, the black person is the first to go? That person is the token. And as a product of many years of schooling being the only black person in my class, homeroom, cheerleading team, etc. I am familiar with the ins and outs of being the token.
While the term usually has a negative connotation, most of us tend to focus on the moments of total hilarity such as, being the only person screaming at Rihanna. I’m not even a huge fan, but the fact I knew I would know the song incited a reaction.
After the show, I sat with my co-workers and told them I was going to write on the topic and they, too, thought it would be hilarious, so here we go. Here are a few signs you are a token or have a token friend.
1. Real Recognize Real (Solidarity):
When you are the token of your group, you always recognize other tokens. When I’m at the EpiCentre, for example, if I see someone else that’s the only minority in the group there’s almost always this moment of, “Hey! I see you!” There are lots of smiles and introductions are fairly simple because it’s like you’re meeting your spirit animal. “I feel you, brah.” *chest bump*
2. “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place” (Music):
In the spirit of Rihanna, as the token, I grew up learning a few staples like “Strawberry Wine” and “I Hope You Dance.” Outside of that, it’s been a learn-as-you-go process. All of my co-workers assured me I had heard a DMB song before after I purchased my Groupon and hopped on the party bus. Nope, not even one song. And after purchasing my Groupon to Weenie Roast this weekend, I found out there will be no barbecued baby weenies available for eating. Nope, just another concert where I won’t know any of the bands. Oh, I can’t wait for someone to perform a familiar cover, like Rihanna?
3. Til Death Do We Part (Weddings):
This spring I went to a wedding for one of my friends. She had been prepping me for months to meet this guy who would be there. I knew he was a person of color but had no other information about him. After showing up late (yes, I know, yet another stigma I can’t seem to crack, being black and being late otherwise known as bp time), and almost missing her walk down the aisle, I looked around and realized I was the only black person there. And then it hit me, he must be a token too. If you’re reading this, Reese Cup, don’t worry I had an amazing time, lol!
4. No, I Don’t Wash My Hair Everyday (Hair):
It was really hilarious when I was a cheerleader and everyone was supposed to look alike (not even gonna harp on that) — hair, makeup and uniform. Well, the hair was always a challenge. I didn’t have the long locks of my counterparts so I was always thankful when one my teammates got her hair cut. Finally, someone else who isn’t going to be able to wear a fishtail braid with a bow at the end. Not to mention, those edges that I’m always talking about, the edge of the hairline that becomes exceptionally frizzy-yeah well those keep from wanting to do anything involving water. No, I don’t have the urge to herbal...
While being a token can definitely mean having one too many #awkwardpalmtree moments, celebrating differences can also bring revelations to others on how to deal with those situations and find the humor. Who cares if you don’t know a single DMB song? Bring your own weenies and pre-game to Rihanna!