Thursday, May 9, 2013

About That Word, “Tolerance”

It’s been a year since Pres. Obama announced his support for marriage equality, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “tolerance” lately. And it occurs to me that it’s not a very good word to use in the context of fundamental civil rights.
Let’s review. On May 9, 2012, the President told ABC News’ Robin Roberts:
I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
(Via Think Progress. Emphasis in original.)
That night our ABC affiliate, covering the President’s announcement, ran a story featuring reactions from local people who held diverse views on the subject. I was particularly pleased to see that the first couple they talked to included an old college friend of mine and his husband. It was uplifting not only because I’ve known this gentleman for a long time, but because he and his husband happen to be African American. Oh, yeah. And his husband is a pastor.
Consider all your stereotypes permanently smashed.
In any event, it was nice to see a local television station find actual people of color who could talk about the President’s announcement and how important it was to them, both as gay men and as African Americans. Those personal connections really brought the matter home: It’s not just an abstraction when you look into the eyes of people who are directly affected by it.
So, as I say, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. White people, straight people, men – we like to talk about how “tolerant” we are of everybody else. We’re the first people to take credit for being magnanimous: Hey, man. I’m, like, totally into tolerance. I’m cool like that.
But here’s the thing. “Tolerance” is bullshit. I mean, it’s obviously better than intolerance, but as liberal ideas go, “tolerance” is about as tepid as you can get. Mighty big of me to, you know, tolerate all you black folks, and women, and gays. Yes, I will tolerate you living in my world. I’ll take that PFLAG award now.
Seriously. You tolerate an obnoxious neighbor for the sake of maintaining peace in the neighborhood. You tolerate your wife playing Celine Dion records, because, after all, nobody’s perfect. Every so often, you have to tolerate an individual person, black or white, male or female, gay or straight; but you don’t merely tolerate entire demographic groups.
To the contrary, when you see a story like the one I mention above – my friend and his husband appearing on television to talk about the President’s support for marriage equality – your reaction should be: Fuck yeah! Awesome, gay dudes. You fucking rock.
I ought to know; I sit right at the intersection of all the blandest demographic groups you’ll ever find: I’m a married, white, middle class, straight professional man who lives in the suburbs with my white wife and three white kids. The only way I could be more generic is if we had 1.86 children … but, then, you know, ew.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like being me – I do. There are few things in life that are quite as liberating as being a cranky middle aged dude who’s all out of fucks to give. That shit is pretty great, to borrow a phrase. But I get enough of me every damn day. I’m everywhere. In fact, there’s entirely too much of me out there – on the street, in every fucking office everywhere, on teevee, on the radio. It’s actually kind of creepy.
I mean, I’m pretty cool and all, but thank god/gods/whatever that there are all these other people in the world who aren’t me.
So that’s why I say, when I encounter somebody who’s not me – somebody who’s black/gay/Jewish/female/atheist/Asian/Muslim/Latino/Latina/Wiccan/ Buddhist/Druid/Hindu/ … even Republican – when ever I encounter somebody like that, who’s some or all of the foregoing, I say: Fuckin’-A, dude. Up top. The world’s a better place with you in it.
As for the rest of the “me”s running around out there … well, let’s just say I tolerate them, because I have to.

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