Saturday, September 06, 2008

Finakpo' Denver - What I Learned from the DNC #5

What I Learned from the DNC #5:
Tokenism

(this is the fifth in a series of concluding thoughts on my time as the blogger from Guam at the 2008 DNC)

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The presence of Guam and other territories at the DNC is a form of tokenism, it is not a gesture of respect or recognition based on necessity or power, but a gesture made to exude the benevolence and grandness of the one making the gesture. In times past the presence or inclusion of certain ethnic groups could be construed as tokenism, empty gestures to include you, which do not recognize you as having any power or standing.

Nowadays, especially in this election where “white” people are showing continued quiet, but nonetheless present resistance to voting for a black man, the patchwork of ethnic groups that make up the Democratic party have to be respected and have to be recognized. With Asian American, Native American, Latino American and African American populations playing key roles in whether swing states go blue or red, and whether Democrats can win certain close races. Their presence isn’t tokenistic, they are crucial and they have thus to be recognized as such, and have a place to negotiate or demand and not be dismissed out of hand.

Guam’s position isn’t such. Guam may have been lucky this year with its prime position on the convention floor (which illicited complaints from numerous “states” who had to endure the travesty of sitting behind a “territory”). But its place on the convention floor is all to show the greatness of American, to provide another example of the big tent of Democrats.

Is there anything wrong with this? For most people, no, because what matters most is the inclusion, the fact that they get a foot or a toe in the door. It was a similar situation in May when Guam participated in the Democratic primary. Although all issues of political status and decolonization were brushed up against at this time, the issues were almost completely ignored at the expense of celebrating the glorious toe that Guam got have in the door of American belonging.

Is this toe in the door, this minute often patronizing form of inclusion useless? No absolutely not, but it is very easy to make sure it is.

Tokens from power can be used for your interests, for your particular, radical, subversive gain, in inventive and creative ways, so long as you give up and reject the lure of gracious gratitude and thankful inclusion. A token is valuable so long as you aren’t enamored with the “excitement” of “just” being there.

Being inside “the house” having that small shred of power can be useful, but only if you use it for yourself and often against the “master.” This works only if you are unwilling to reinforce that idea of power’s greatness or love for you. If you use your position not to celebrate your presence or forget the ways you are still excluded, then you can make known the structure of your exclusion, or your oppression and you can change it.

For instance, so many people from the territories, in particular Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that I spoke to, said that their eventual hope in terms of political status for their islands’ was full integration, statehood. If that is your desire, then why not use your tokenistic inclusion to push for that desire, to try to make it happen? Celebrating your meager inclusion won’t bring it any closer to coming true, so why not put down the flags for a moment and actually confront the United States with your desire, and see what happens next? Even though in the case of Guam, I don’t support statehood, I still think that you should use whatever tokens Guam gets in order to push for whatever vision you have for a better political status for the island. The way I see it, even an expression of greater inclusion, and a push to make it happen, can help reveal the structure of Guam’s status, its relationship to the United States, colonialism and the limits of American benevolence and the falsity of the façade of Guam’s inclusion.

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