By Martha Barry, PhD, Racial Justice Director, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
Friday, November 16 is the International Day for Tolerance.
Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own;” or the “act of allowing something.” Tolerance seems to convey the notion that we will “put up with you” or “handle having you around.” Do you want to be or feel tolerated? “Sympathy or indulgence” is not what is needed today. Both smack of charity. What would the world be like if we moved beyond tolerance to acknowledgement of one another and our differences, to one of true acceptance of our humanity?
November is also Native American/Alaska Native Heritage Month. Do we think that Native people feel they are acknowledged here? Our treatment of Native peoples in the USA has been harmful and deeply divisive and reprehensible. As sovereign nations, Native peoples have not received recognition or support of their perspectives, beliefs and practices. What if the world was upended and Native American and Alaskan Natives felt they had tolerated their colonizers long enough?
These are challenging times. Discussions linking homeland security and the anxiety white people feel in communities that are changing, have stirred hatred, bigotry and violence. Communities where white people were the dominant population have felt “pushed out” or “unsafe” as more people of color move in. There is not acceptance of those who are different as people’s fears, anxieties and worries take over. The anxieties can easily be stoked by political rhetoric that moves into dog whistle politics of race.
Small towns, suburban areas, and regional segments of landscapes are changing and will continue to change. Demographics of the United States are shifting. With change, comes new perspectives, ideas, attitudes, hopes and dreams.
What if we could welcome the changes and move beyond tolerance to acknowledging our differences and accepting each other more fully? What would each of us have to face? What hidden bias, hatred and bigotry in our own lives would need to be analyzed and reconsidered?
It is much easier for us to point the finger at someone else’s indifference, hatred or bigotry than to notice our own. If we take account of our fears, we might find we are more similar than different. Be willing to let go of notions of good and bad and right and wrong. We might find deeper understanding of the gray areas of life.
What racial fears, intolerances, and challenges are you willing to re-consider as our nation changes?