The Token Black Girl

Let me preface this by saying if you feel some kinda way about yourself after reading this…good this is for you. 

Back when I first started blogging in 2010 it wasn’t for money. There was no money in blogging at that time, it was purely a fun hobby and grew into a way I could meet like minded and creative people. The community was small in New York City and thriving. It was a time when groups of little known bloggers with less than a thousand followers where invited to the showrooms of Rebecca Minkoff and gifting parties thrown by Lulus. It was a time when there wasn’t much competition and it was all fun and games. I was well aware that for a few brands I was working with in those early years, that I was a token. The token black girl. Yes, I’ve always had my own unique style and a way with words but I knew there was more to it than that.

Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce (or for a brand).

At that time, to be a token made me feel valued. I was the one they’d chosen to represent the black woman. I had a duty to be the best I can be and to put out the best work because I had a whole race on my back. But that just wasn’t enough for me. I started to resent being a token. I wanted to see more women like me afforded the same opportunities. I didn’t want to be 1 of 3 black women at a fashion event or with a seat at the table. I wanted all of us to have a piece of the pie. I really wanted to see more black women and bloggers like myself covering fashion week. Enough that I researched the hell out of how to do it and not only did a 3 part video series on it but later wrote whole ebooks about it. I’ve never had a problem sharing contacts. If someone wants a contact I’m ready and willing to share. I know what I can do for a brand isn’t the same as what the next person can do. We all have our talents. I know that there is enough pie to go around for us all, but not everyone shares this same sentiment. There in lies the problem. Some of us are very content being the token and will fight tooth and nail with another black woman coming for “that” spot. Instead of extending a hand and bringing us along on the ride.

I’m done standing on the sidelines and watching this happen. It’s just amusement for everyone watching. I am by no means perfect. I have in the past felt threatened by another’s success and it took a lot of soul searching and self evaluation for me to really and truly be happy for another women’s success without the Why Not Me Pity Party. Every now and then I still get a wave of jealousy but I know I can’t sit in that. It’s human to get jealous, it’s not helpful to stay in that frame of mind. It’s much easier to lift others up than to try and gobble everything up for yourself. It’s exhausting trying to outshine everyone. It’s exhausting to compete with people. It’s essential to find humbleness especially when you have a huge platform and have the power to make a real change in someones life. I know what’s for me is for me and nobody can take that away. It took all of my 20’s to figure that out but I’m better for knowing that and truly believing it, not just saying it. Sometimes you really have to fake it until you make it. I know that giving credit where it’s due will never dim my light or take away from me.

I’ve had instances where I felt another black blogger thought I was coming for her “Token Spot”. She made snide remarks inquiring about how I got an invite to an exclusive whitewashed event and also how she’d turned down a collaboration that was then offered to me and how happy she was they found me. I would have appreciated her recommending me instead. Yes, those things seem trivial but it was her tone, filled with fear and anxiety that tipped me off to the fact that in her mind she was in competition with me. At first I was angry but I realized that she was in a state of panic and coming from a place of fear. I’ve been there and I recognized a part of myself in her anxiety. I know what insecurity looks like. It’s something only soul searching, growth and experience can help to alleviate. Some people aren’t willing, ready or even able to do that work on themselves. So I was able to see past it and keep it moving. I compete with no one but myself and if I find myself a token, I use my position to open doors and bring other people along who look like me.

Photography by Rose Lazard || Editing by Monroe Steele

Zara Tee (Get Similar Here) and Zara Pants | Vintage Bag | Marco De Vincenzo Heels | Nars Mysterious Red Velvet Lip Pencil

GET THE LOOK


We, especially black women, are so good at standing up for communities, for righteousness for equality in every sense. We can band together and save a whole country, we can band together and birth every fashion trend that’s then watered down and copied a million times over. But when it’s time for us to really and truly see and help each other, we fail miserably. I believe it all goes back to the token mentality we’ve been programmed to believe is truth. The thought that only a few of us can make it. The sooner we stop believing in this, the sooner we can repair the broken relationship amongst black women. The need to feel better than someone or superior to someone or to use a bunch of hashtags suggesting you are the be all end all and that you weren’t inspired by someone you deem beneath you. The need to steal and imitate and step on people to get time in the limelight. A limelight not even meant or designed to promote or help us grow as a people. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. It’s ok to be humble. You can shine without shitting on someone else. You can shine sitting down too.

xx

Monroe

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38 Comments

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:45 am

      Thank you! Zara is killing the game.

      xx
      Monroe

  1. Faith
    May 17, 2018 / 7:37 am

    GIRL!!! Yessss!! So much truth in every word you said!!

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:46 am

      Thanks so much for reading Faith. I appreciate you.

      xx
      Monroe

  2. Melissa ward
    May 17, 2018 / 8:09 am

    Great, inspiring, and well said post…. you just get us 😉

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:46 am

      Thanks Melissa Love! I try and do what I can with my little piece on the internets. All of these things have been said before, but it’s worth repeating every now and then.

      xx
      Monroe

  3. May 17, 2018 / 8:45 am

    Totally agree!! Black women are SO ready to fight for other causes but oftentimes not ready to lift one another up. It’s a wild world out here in the blogosphere, but it’s encouraging knowing there are other black bloggers who are willing to grow alongside each other and aren’t threatened by one another’s success!

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:48 am

      Girl! So ready. I am tired. We need to do better when it comes to us not just everything else. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

      xx
      Monroe

  4. Janice
    May 17, 2018 / 9:28 am

    Yes yes and yes to this article! We have to stop letting fear and others pin us against one another because we each have something special to share with the next person even if only for a moment we were all created for greatness, but it’s our job to see it!! Loved this message

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:47 am

      You are so right Janice! We were all created for greatness. I just hope we can really internalize that message. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      xx
      Monroe

  5. Vana
    May 17, 2018 / 9:53 am

    What a great and on time piece! Couldn’t have said it any better.

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:09 pm

      Love you!

      xx
      Monroe

  6. Yellow08
    May 17, 2018 / 9:56 am

    Drops mic! I think it’s so important to admit that most of us have been there (feeling the need to be the only one or the first one) and I too struggled, not necessarily with tokenism but with forms of competition. At this point in my life, I have grown so much and I realize none of the this “stuff” really matters. It’s fun, we enjoy it and for some, it’s a passion but in the long-run, it doesn’t have any real value. Being able to reach back (or side by side) to share the information, introduce new connections, opportunities, and networks, is what brings me joy.

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:08 pm

      Haha. Thank you s much for reading. You are so right it really doesn’t matter in the long run.

      xx
      Monroe

  7. May 17, 2018 / 10:17 am

    “We, especially black women, are so good at standing up for communities, for righteousness for equality in every sense. We can band together and save a whole country, we can band together and birth every fashion trend that’s then watered down and copied a million times over. But when it’s time for us to really and truly see and help each other, we fail miserably.”

    That about sums it up PERFECTLY.

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:08 pm

      Right. Its sad but true but I think we need to talk more openly about it in order to promote some change.

      xx
      Monroe

  8. May 17, 2018 / 11:14 am

    This is the very reason that Tania and I started The Glow Up. Thank you for sharing this. This conversation needs to happen more often.

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:08 pm

      Yas. I love TGU. So much sisterhood. I wish more and more people would catch on.

      xx
      Monroe

  9. May 17, 2018 / 11:46 am

    It seems like this entire month has been full of eye openers and it sucks to see that some black women aren’t willing to extend their support to other black women and would rather close the door behind them once they’ve “made it.” I spoke up about this on my IG stories yesterday because it was disheartening to realize this happens. I’m glad more people are willing to have these conversations because there is so much room out there for creatives to flourish. Besides that, we all have a specific purpose in life and if some of us learned to trust that then maybe we wouldn’t work so hard to keep others from “coming for our spot…” Or we’d at least be a little more original in our creative endeavors. Thank you so much for talking about this.

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:07 pm

      Girl, it really has been a rough one. Thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

      xx
      Monroe

  10. May 17, 2018 / 12:41 pm

    Okay, now! I enjoyed every sentence. So much truth here and thank you for being bold enough to write this for the world to read. This resonated with me “A limelight not even meant or designed to promote or help us grow as a people” I hope it does with more of us. United we are stronger!!! #siddyinthesity

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:07 pm

      Thank you for reading. You’re right we are better united!

      xx
      Monroe

  11. May 17, 2018 / 1:05 pm

    Yes indeed!!! This read is spot on! We as black women are lacking the most important thing and that’s coming together for each other, in every sense of the word. Some get it while too many others don’t. You are a real one that has never shook left. I feel like a proud Auntie lol. Keep inspiring us all love.

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:06 pm

      Thanks so much Katina and I hope more people catch on. Love ya! Thank you for all your support.

      xx
      Monroe

  12. May 17, 2018 / 1:31 pm

    YASSSSSSSSSSSSSS Love this post so much. Time’s up we need to start elevating each other. That’s one of the reason why I love you always putting other people on xx

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:06 pm

      Love you boo! You always check me and I appreciate that.

      xx
      Monroe

  13. 4TheLoveofJulia
    May 17, 2018 / 4:27 pm

    Love the post, very inspiring and Matthew 5:5 is my favorite verse (got it tattooed on my wrist ) BE HUMBLE

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:06 pm

      Thanks so much for reading! One of my favorites as well.

      xx
      Monroe

  14. Gayle
    May 17, 2018 / 4:36 pm

    I am not black but keep on!

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      Thanks for reading!

      xx
      Monroe

  15. mm
    May 17, 2018 / 7:02 pm

    AMEN!!! Lets do this

    • monroesteele
      May 17, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      YES! I’m ready

      xx
      Monroe

  16. May 18, 2018 / 10:11 am

    Phew, EVERYONE, every black blogger, creator, influencer, creative, whatever should read this post! There’s so much power in this post! So much truth. So much authenticity and so much value! Fear comes from insecurity, which as women, we all have, have gone through and are still going through on some level. Insecurity sometimes can come from lack of support, affirmation or the recognition of lack in one’s own talents and gifts. We ALL have something special about us, but instead of basking in those talents or skills or gifts, we seek to gain and acquire more and that’s greed. I have been jealous a many times of others who have seemingly passed me up and then I have to remember who God called me to be and ALL that he has entrusted me to utilize in a way that pleases him. It’s tough, no doubt, but it is POSSIBLE when you confront yourself about exactly what and why it is jealousy or whatever it is that you’re harboring exists and deal with it head on and honestly. Then, and only then can you start to allow other just as phenomenal woman to sup with you. Sad to say, but a lot of women just havent reached that point, but we all process at different times and in different ways. Great read!!

    • monroesteele
      May 19, 2018 / 6:28 am

      Preach! Thank you for reading and always showing support!

      xx
      Monroe

  17. May 18, 2018 / 11:47 am

    Truth!! Loved the article and the last paragraph at the end was the most powerful to me. Unfortunately, I have very few black blog friends because most choose the token black girl option. The sad part is that other races have helped me grow and it’s sad and embarrassing. We need to do better.

    • monroesteele
      May 19, 2018 / 6:29 am

      Sometimes thats definitely the case. One of the reasons I wrote this is because that need to change. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

      xx
      Monroe

  18. May 18, 2018 / 6:24 pm

    Loved this and I feel it also pertains to all women of color as well! I am working on myself still – especially about getting sensitive when i feel someone that I’ve helped and supported for years doesn’t reciprocate in the least – but I’m learning to let it be and realize- like you said – is meant for me will be!

    Zahra

    • monroesteele
      May 19, 2018 / 6:30 am

      Thanks so much Zahra! I appreciate you reading. We all have those moments but we gotta feel it and release it and try to find peace.

      xx
      Monroe

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