The token friend

Many people feel that there is a certain way to implement diversity in the media. Currently, one of the most controversial ways is the restructuring of white characters into people of color (POC). This is prevalent through the new live action “Little Mermaid,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” and “Velma.” 

While many have an issue with the characters being redrawn/rewritten for malicious reasons or internalized racism, there are also those who want to dive deeper on why this is happening. Why does it feel as though many media platforms are trying to push a diversity quota? What harmful stereotypes are perpetuated as a result? 

“From a journalism standpoint, we need to get out of our comfort zone,” Instructor for Journalism and Broadcast and Faculty Advisor for Texan News Service, Austin Lewter, stated. “At this panel discussion back in June, the panelists were all African American and one of them asked, when was the last time a Black man was on the front page that wasn’t a mugshot.”

Black people have been in the media since its conception, Broadway star Ethel Waters may have been then first hosting a one-off variety show in 1939. Nevertheless, the roles that Black people played were typically servants, comedic relief, or the token diverse character. This shifted with the showing of shows such as “Soul Train,” “A Different World,” and the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” as recorded on However, the concept of POC appearing in the media as a token character only grew over time.

Tokenism is accepting someone who identifies as a minority into a group only to prevent criticism and give the appearance everyone is being treated fairly as defined by Miriam Webster. Oftentimes they appear as the “funny Black friend,” such as Ivy Wentz from “Good Luck Charlie,” Fez from “That 70’s Show” and Raj from “The Big Bang Theory ” are classic examples of the token POC.

 “The main difference lies in the purpose and execution. Whereas representation seeks to promote inclusion and diversity, tokenism only seeks to achieve an appearance of representation,” reporter Alina Chan wrote.

While diversity quotas, systems used to increase the percentage of minority groups into specific positions, are unconstitutional, many directors and producers feel pressured to include them. Tokenism is harmful because it promotes stereotypes such as being overweight and loud,  it also feeds into the comedic relief or aggressive Black person trope. 

Representation is essential in the media because the world is not just made up of able-bodied people that share one race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. When done correctly, we get shows like “Karma’s World” and “One Day at a Time,” which actually educate its viewers on inclusivity. For more information visit