From here to equality:
Moving beyond tolerance
May 17, 2004 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled against educational segregation, noting that separate was inherently unequal. But while de jure segregation has been outlawed, de facto segregation, discrimination and hatred persist. According to The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, there were 751 hate groups active during 2003. Human rights groups have struggled to develop effective strategies to address this epidemic of hatred. One of the most recent additions to those efforts is the campaign to promote tolerance. Despite having secured a significant following, however, tolerance is not without its detractors. Many civic and religious leaders have expressed concerns that tolerance, like segregation, is inherently unequal and therefore might undermine our efforts to combat hatred. For example, according to Victor Kazanjian, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at Wellesley College, "[t]olerance is not a basis for healthy human relationship nor will it ever lead to true community, for tolerance does not allow for learning, or growth or transformation, but rather ultimately keeps people in a state of suspended ignorance and conflict. . . .Tolerance has not protected us from acts of hate but rather cast us in a frozen state of societal fragmentation with no apparent change in sight."
If his concerns (and those of others like him) are valid, tolerance would never lead to the racial integration, ethnic harmony and gender equality sought by visionaries such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (A review of Dr. King’s sermons and speeches could find no instance of his promoting tolerance as a solution to hatred or as a solution to any other social ill he addressed.) The purpose of this study was to begin a critical examination of tolerance by asking 111 students enrolled in an antiviolence educational program to compare tolerance with five other interpersonal values, namely, respect, appreciation, understanding, acceptance and trust.
Overall, "tolerance" was considered to be a more negative concept than all the others combined by a four-to-one margin. "Respect" was considered to be the most positive;
"Tolerance" was seen to be consistent with (rather than a solution to) hatred and violence;
"Tolerance" was seen as inconsistent with "acceptance," "respect," and "equality;"
"Tolerance" was the concept that subjects reported "least wanting to get from anyone;"
"Respect" was what they "most wanted to get from anyone;"
"Tolerance" was considered to be the "least effective in making the world a great place to live." "Acceptance" was considered to be "the most effective."
In addition, several comments made by subjects in the study also suggested that the promotion of "tolerance" may interfere with efforts to achieve an integrated society. Those comments included:
"Tolerance? Are you kidding? It’s in insult! It’s how white people feel better about themselves while continuing to hate blacks."
"I don’t want charity. I want equality."
"It’s [tolerance] what we will have to settle for, since we won’t get respect."
"Tolerance is just politically correct racism."
"You only have to tolerate people you don’t like."
"What makes them think they’re so much better than us?" (A comment from an African American man referring to how he feels when whites "tolerate" blacks.)
"Why would anybody want tolerance?"
Results of this study suggest a need for anti-hate organizations to carefully examine the approaches they employ. The study proposes a two-part test that would assist in conducting that examination.
Part one. Necessity:
Does the approach (e.g., promoting tolerance) offer anything not provided by other established concepts (e.g., acceptance, respect)? This study found nothing to suggest that tolerance provides any unique and beneficial contribution to anti-hate initiatives.
Part two. Cost vs. Benefits:
Even if there are unique benefits to promoting a particular concept such as tolerance, are there unintended consequences that outweigh the potential benefits? The promotion of "tolerance," while well intended, seems to carry with it, a condescending attitude that offends the very people it is supposed to help. Consequently, it may undermine, rather than support anti-hate initiatives.
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