Token white people in minority films or TV shows border on cringe-worthy buffoons and are often the source of awkward humor.
And it’s not hard to imagine why POC movies/shows often portray white characters this way. It’s not because white people have stereotyped POC in film and TV throughout history, and payback was a long time coming (although I can’t fully deny this).
It’s because white people in real life are actually like this.
Although these white characters are caricatures, we laugh at them because there’s a truth to the portrayal. While token minorities in films/TV are either stereotypes or border on whitewashed, with nothing inherently different in their characters besides their skin color, white characters seem to be overwhelmingly and obliviously white.
Recent films have used white people to make a political and/or cultural statement. Where “Black Panther” utilized Agent Ross (played by Martin Freeman) as the sidekick and “Sorry To Bother You” portrayed Steve Lift (played by Armie Hammer) as the evil, white CEO, “Blackkklansman” showed white people as both cruel enemies and valuable allies.
Despite whitewashing attempts, “Crazy Rich Asians” didn’t have any white people in it at all, and its box office lived up to the movie’s title. So it’s not that white people need to be included in every POC movie or show, but when we want to portray everyday white people in a realistic way, how do we?
Enter the token white person. As much as we’ve seen the obligatory token minority in white movies, we can rise above that and show the token white people that are part of our inner circles. The white people, who acknowledge the obvious disconnect, but stick around and are open to learning about the culture(s).
The ones who don’t mind taking off their shoes in the house and aren’t opposed to spices and seasoning in food. All kidding aside, I know I’m not the only minority who have good, kind white people in their lives. And with the rise of POC movies, I know we can portray them in a positive light without ignoring our apparent differences.
Why? Because I believe that even though there is a truth to how cringe worthy white characters are portrayed and the numerous stereotypical representations of minorities in white films are still problematic, the end goal is unity between all.
When that end goal is accomplished, there won’t be any tokens left, just people.
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Written in VA. An MFA graduate in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.