In her debut memoir, Token Black Girl (Little A, Oct.), Danielle Prescod defines the girl of her title: “The Token Black Girl is characterized mostly by her proximity to her white peers and her nonthreatening and friendly nature.... She almost never acknowledges her position as the sole Black member of a group.... Her most critical responsibility is providing protection against the ‘racist’ label that might otherwise be hurled at a gaggle of white women devoid of ethnic variety.”
Prescod, who’s now in her 30s, grew up solidly middle-class in Connecticut—“I never wanted for anything,” she writes. She went to private school and college and worked in magazines, always acutely aware of body image and the media’s representation of the ideal way for a woman to look.
Her career began at 18 with an unpaid summer internship at Nylon; she was style director at BET’s website in 2020 when she left for Ireland with a plan to write a book. “When I was in Ireland,” she tells me, “the reasons for so much of my self-loathing, my never being satisfied, began to crystallize. I started to piece together sources, going back to things I had read or watched as a kid.”
Prescod begins the book with the memory of a 2003 Vanity Fair cover that, she writes, “teased a teen-focused special featuring five of the most wealthy and popular female representatives of television and movie stardom.” As she notes, all the girls on the cover were thin, blonde, and white. It was a flap cover, and relegated to the foldout was “the brunette, the bad girl [Lindsey Lohan] and the lone Black girl.”
Returning to the U.S. in March 2020 when the pandemic hit, she says, “all my plans to travel were upended, so for the next three months I stayed home and wrote.” At the end of May she had a manuscript and began submitting to agents (98 of them!).
Meanwhile, things were happening in the world: George Floyd was murdered on Memorial Day, and white friends reached out to Prescod to ask if she was okay. She posted a video on Instagram in response to these queries, asking, “Where were you when I had my personal struggles and where will you be in the future?”
The video went viral, amassing more than 2.5 million views.
Prescod’s agent, Jessica Alvarez at BookEnds, says, “It hit a real chord on Instagram.” She got Prescod’s query on Friday of that weekend but didn’t read it until Tuesday, after the Instagram post had gone up. “I loved the proposal,” she says. “While I’m not Black, I also went to a preppy Connecticut high school; there were parallels I connected with. Danielle’s proposal was timely and also gave this different perspective on the media and fashion worlds. I set up a meeting, we had a great conversation, and in mid-June, after considering other agents, Danielle chose me.”
Alvarez submitted Token Black Girl widely in early July, soon after received a first offer, and the book went to auction with a closing date at the end of July. The winner was Laura Van der Veer at Amazon Publishing’s Little A imprint, and the deal for North American rights closed on July 31 for what Alvarez says was “a nice amount for a debut.”
Van der Veer recalls that when she received the submission, “the title caught my attention.” She had also seen Prescod’s video. “It was very candid,” she says, “and it spoke to me and also to my industry. I wanted to hear more about Danielle’s experiences.” Prescod “brought the boldness of her video to the page. She has a lot of confidence on the page, and it was a voice I wanted to work with. It also reminded me of my childhood, the media touch points. I remember the Vanity Fair cover, the TV shows she talks about, the ideal look of the ’90s. I was interested in her personal story of being a ‘token Black girl.’ ”
The team at Amazon were all excited, Van der Veer says, and it became a priority internally. “We knew it would be an important book,” she adds. “This is one of those books that keeps coming up in your mind and in your life. It resonates across race, ethnicity, class—all the things that separate us. Danielle is such a candid professional.”
The two worked together to shape the manuscript, which was laid out in sections around the physical parts of the body, into a narrative. Prescod restructured it to make it chronological. “We Frankensteined it—stitched it together,” she remembers.
And about that video that went viral? “It was an accident,” Prescod says. “I made it in one take, in five minutes while I was waiting for my mom. I got fired up at the attention I got after George Floyd; he wasn’t the first Black person killed. And I realized that I am an effective communicator and have access to white people. If I can communicate, it’s important for me to do that.”
Prescod is the cofounder, with Chrissy Rutherford, of consulting agency 2BG (2 Black Girls), which works with fashion and beauty brands and influencers to help them become more diverse and inclusive. “I’m hoping,” she says, “for a place where white and Black women are inspired to make sure things change—a place where everyone is validated and willing to have the power shift.”
Amen to that.