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IRWIN: Twister, tokenism and truth

Alright, young people, today’s first vocabulary word is “tokenism.”

If you don’t know what tokenism is, maybe you will glean its meaning from what I have to say.  And if you are offended by my occasional patronizing voice, then it is most likely that you are part of the population for which tokenism works.  I won’t be so lame a writer as to give you a dictionary definition. No. Feel free to look it up, if you wish.

And lest there be any confusion, let me be clear at the get-go: I am talking about racial tokenism.

When racial tokenism began rearing its condescending head in the 1960s, it appeared to be naïve and cluelessly innocent, but it brought about its own kind of harm with a nod to a false kind of acceptance.

One glaring example of tokenism, that I must confess, made me laugh at first glance, before I began to feel a pang of disgust, was the 1990s packaging for the game, Twister.

Yes, we all know Twister. And we all know (ahem) the unspoken sexual tension imbued therein as pre-teens playing it are coerced into the entanglement of limbs. And if you don’t believe that tension is one of the points of the game, well ... [patronizing pat on the head] ... there, there and bless your heart.

In this particular photograph on the box, there are four kids who appear to be about 12 or 13. On the fold-out vinyl “board” are two white girls and a white boy. The good-looking white boy is seriously entangled with an equally attractive red-headed white girl. (If these two weren’t playing the game, it would be a disturbing scene, indeed.) Another white girl is beside the entangled couple. And far in the background, in charge of the game’s “spinner,” is a Black boy. That kid isn’t on the board at all. He isn’t even playing the game.

Because God forbid that he might be entangled with the white children.

Once upon a time, the exploitation of tokenism was imposed upon the population by Madison Avenue and a shiftier corporate culture. But, nowadays within the white neoconservative movement, there are some self-tokenizing African-American individuals who have gained a certain amount of fame (or infamy, depending on your perspective). One such person was the keynote speaker on our Square last weekend at the “Save the Statue Peace Rally”, the historical revisionist, H.K. Edgerton.

Mr. Edgerton brings with him the gravitas of being a former president of the NAACP of Asheville, North Carolina, where he led the organization into a state of debt and was dismissed for non-compliance of the rules.

Now, it seems, that Mr. Edgerton has found himself a very nice gig: showing up and speaking at events sponsored by the Sons of the Confederacy.

This leads me to our next vocabulary word: “prostitution.” At its core, prostitution is the act of feigned affection. The prostitute is paid to pretend something that they and the person paying them both know isn’t true. This does not mean that there is a waning of enthusiasm. Au contraire.

The prostitute at the most basic level wears the over-the-top trappings of the trade: heavy trying-too-hard makeup, and head-turning raiments.  And of course, it behooves the prostitute to express audible zeal. Very much like the countenance of an African-American man donning a Confederate-themed T-shirt (with his own face thereupon!) yelling at the top of his lungs about “Southern heritage” as he holds a Confederate battle flag.  In a town in Georgia in the year 2021, such a sight is simply silly.

People do go on and on about “history.” But the historic reasons for the Civil War can be found in the speeches and the declarations before the war, not in the histrionic memorials and rationalizations of The Lost Cause, after the fact.

Here are some examples of such writings:

From Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861, three weeks before the bombardment of Fort Sumter:

“Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth...”

From Georgia’s Declaration of Secession:

“For the last (10) years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding Confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property...” (The emphasis is mine. – AOI)

From Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”

From South Carolina’s Declaration of Secession:

“But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slave-holding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws...”

All of the other states’ declarations and ordinances of secession reveal that the reason for the war surrounds the economy of slavery.

For historical understanding, I suggest going to primary sources.

Truth isn’t necessarily what is repeated over and over at the highest volume.

Andy Irwin is a native of Covington and a natural storyteller, humorist, singer, songwriter, musician, whistler and human noise maker. He can be reached at