The following quotations are from:
Leroi Jones, “Tokenism: 300 Years for Five Cents,” from Home: Social Essays
“There are almost 20,000,000 Negroes in the United States. One of these 20 million has been given a two-dollar raise and promoted to a clerical job that my two-year-old daughter could probably work out without too much trouble. And we are told that this act is symbolic of the ‘gigantic strides the Negro has taken since slavery.’” 86
“Negroes have been in this country since the early part of the seventeenth century. And they have only ‘legally’ been free human beings since the middle of the nineteenth. So we have two hundred years of complete slavery and now for the last one hundred years a ‘legal’ freedom that has so many ands, ifs, ands or buts that I, for one, cannot accept it as freedom at all but see it as a legal fiction that has been perpetuated to assuage the occasional loud rumbles of moral conscience that must at times smite all American white men.
These last hundred years, according to our official social chiropractors, have been for American Negroes years of progress and advancement. As Time magazine said, “never has the Negro been able to purchase so much and never has he owned so much, free and clear.’ That is, everything but his own soul. It is not ‘progress’ that the majority of Negroes want, but Freedom. And I apologies if that word, Freedom, sounds a little too unsophisticated or a little too much like 1930’s social renascence for some people; the fact remains that it is the one thing that has been most consistently denied the Negro in America (as well as black men all over the world).
Self-determination is the term used when referring to some would-be nation’s desire for freedom. The right to choose one’s own path. The right to become exactly what one thinks himself capable of. And it strikes me as monstrous that a nation or, for that matter, a civilization like our Western civilization, reared for the last five hundred years exclusively in the humanistic bombast of the Renaissance, should find it almost impossible to understand the strivings of enslaved peoples to free themselves. It is this kind of paradox that has caused the word ‘Nationalism’ to be despised and/or feared in the West, or shrugged off in official circles as ‘just another Communist plot.’ Even here in the United States the relatively mild attempts at ‘integration’ in the South are met by accusations of being Communist-inspired. (And I would add as, say, a note of warning to the various Southern congressmen whose sole qualification for office is that they are more vociferous in their disparagement of Negroes than their opponents, that if they persist in crediting the Communists with every attempt at delivering the black American out of his real and constant bondage, someone’s going to believe them… namely the new or aspirant nations of Asia, Latin America, or Africa.” 87-88
“Tokenism, or what I define as the setting up of social stalements or the extension of meager privilege to some few ‘selected’ Negroes in order that a semblance of compromise or ‘progress,’ or a lessening in racial repression, might seem to be achieved, while actually helping to maintain the status quo just as rigidly, could not, of course, really come into being until after the emancipation. Before that, there was no real need to extend even a few tokens to the slave. There was, indeed, no reason why anyone had to create th illusion for the slave that he was ‘making progress,’ or governing himself, or any other such untruth. In a sense, however, the extension of ‘special privileges’ to Negro house servants (‘house niggers’) did early help to create a new class of Negro, within the slave system. The ‘house nigger’ not only assimilated ‘mass’s’ ideas and attitudes at a rapid rate, but his children were sometimes allowed to learn trades and become artisans and craftsmen. And it was these artisans and craftsmen who made up the bulk of the 500,000 black ‘freedmen’ extant at the beginning of the Civil War.
The Reconstruction governments are the first actual example of the kind of crumb-dropping that was to characterize the Federal Government’s attitude regarding the status of the ‘free’ Negro. The Reconstruction governments were nothing but symbols, since no real lands were ever given to the Negroes, and even any political influence which had come to the ex-slaves as part of the Reconstruction was nullified by 1876 (the so-called redemption of the South).
Another aspect of tokenism is the setting apart or appointing of ‘leaders’ among Negroes who in effect glorify whatever petty symbol the white ruling classes think is necessary for Negroes to have at that particular time. So, at the fall of the Reconstruction governments, the industrialist-financier-planter oligarchy found an able ‘leader’ in Booker T. Washington, a Negro through whom these interests could make their wishes known to the great masses of Negroes. After the North had more or less washed its hands of the ‘Southern mess,’ and it was a generally accepted idea that the Negroes had ruined the Reconstruction simply because they were incapable o governing themselves, Booker T. Washington came into great prominence and influence as a Negro leader because he accepted the idea of segregation as a ‘solution’ to the race problem, and also because he advocated that Negroes learn trades rather than go into any of the more ambitious professions.” 90-91
“A rich man told me recently that a liberal is a man who tells other people what to do with their money. I told him that that was right from the side of the telescope he looked through, but that as far as I was concerned a liberal was a man who told other people what to do with their poverty.
I mention this peculiarly American phenomenon, i.e., American Liberalism, because it is just this group of amateur social theorists, American Liberals, who have done most throughout American history to insure the success of tokenism. Whoever has proposed whatever particular social evasion or dilution—to whatever ignominious end—it is usually the liberal who gives that lie the greatest lip service. They, liberals, are people with extremely heavy consciences and almost nonexistent courage. Too little is always enough. And it is always the symbol that appeals to them the most. The single futile housing project in the jungle of slums and disease eases the liberals’ conscience, so they are loudest in praising it—even though it might not solve any problems at all. The single black student in the Southern university, the promoted porter in Marietta, Georgia—all ease the liberals’ conscience like a benevolent but highly addictive drug. And, for them, ‘moderation’ is a kind of religious catch phrase that they are wont to mumble on street corners even alone late at night.
Is it an excess for a man to ask to be free. To declare, vehemently, that no man has the right to dictate the life of another man? Is it so radical and untoward for nations to claim the right of self-determination? Freedom now! has become the cry of a great many American Negroes and colonial nations. Not freedom ‘when you get ready to give it,’ as some spurious privilege or shabby act of charity; but now! The liberal says, ‘you are a radical.’ So be it.
Liberals, as good post-Renaissance men, believe wholeheartedly in progress. There are even those people who speak knowing about ‘progress in the arts.’ But progress is not, and never has been, the question as far as the enslaving of men is concerned. Africans never asked to be escorted to the New World. They never had any idea that learning ‘good English’ and wearing shoes had anything to do with the validity of their lives on earth. Slavery was not anything but an unnecessarily cruel and repressive method of making money for the Western white man. Colonialism was a more subtle, but equally repressive method of accomplishing the same end. The liberal is in a strange position because his conscience, unlike the conscience of his richer or less intelligent brothers, has always bothered him about these acts, but never sufficiently to move him to any concrete action except the setting up of palliatives and symbols to remind him of his own good faith.” 94-95
“A Negro who is told that the ‘desegregation’ of a bus terminal in Georgia somehow represents ‘progress’ is definitely being lied to. Progress to where? The bare minimum of intelligent life is what any many wants. This was true in 1600 when the first slaves were hauled off the boats, and it has not changed. Perhaps the trappings and the external manifestations that time and the lessons of history have proposed make some things seem different or changed in the world, but the basic necessities of useful life are the same. If a tractor has replaced a mule, the need to have the field produce has not changed. And if a black man can speak English now, or read a newspaper, whereas (ask any liberal) he could not in 18 so-and-so, he is no better off now than he was then if he still cannot receive the basic privileges of manhood. In fact, he is perhaps worse off than in 18 so-and-so since he is now being constantly persuaded that he is receiving these basic privileges (or, at least, he is told that he soon will, e.g. R. Kennedy’s high comic avowal that perhaps in forty years a Negro might be president).
But, for me, the idea of ‘progress’ is a huge fallacy. An absurd Western egoism that has been foisted on the rest of the world as an excuse for slavery and colonialism. An excuse for making money. Because this progress the Western slavemaster is always talking about means simply the mass acquisition of all the dubious fruits of the industrial revolution. And the acquisition of material wealth has, in my mind, only very slightly to do with self-determination or freedom. Somehow, and most especially in the United States, the fact that more Negroes can buy new Fords this year than they could in 1931 is supposed to represent some great stride forward. To where? How many new Fords will Negroes have to own before police in Mississippi stop using police dogs on them? How many television sets and refrigerators will these same Negroes have to own before they are allowed to vote without being made to live in tents, or their children allowed decent educations? And even if a bus station in Anniston, Alabama, is ‘integrated,’ how much does this help reduce the 25 per cent unemployment figures that besets Negroes in Harlem?” 96-97
“Tokenism is that philosophy (of psychological exploitation) which is supposed to assuage my natural inclinations toward complete freedom.” 98