When is Tolerance Acceptable?

Most of us at one time or another, have had the fortune (or misfortune) of having to participate in organised debates in some form. For most of us this would have been at high school if you grew up in New Zealand. I remember one debate we had when I was on the advanced team in 7th form at Rosehill College. (I skipped doing my bursary year at De La Salle and moved across to Public School for my final year of high school education)

This debate was against none other than the infamous Kings College. One of New Zealand’s poshest and most expensive schools. The moot we debated was ‘Dissent should be encouraged’ we lost this debate heavily if I recall. We were the proposition team, and the opposition destroyed our case by simply arguing that dissent should be tolerated, not encouraged.

It wasn’t until recently I finally came to realise that we actually should have won this debate. Not in a literal sense; ie that we were the deserving team, but because until our society learns that tolerance is not enough, we can never alleviate many of the growing pains, social ills, prejudice, discrimination, evils of insider outsider perspectives if we do not learn that acceptance is a must.

Many people confuse tolerance and acceptance. They think that they are one in the same. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. We tolerate our immigrant neighbours; our gay hairdressers; our female police officers, but we very rarely accept them.

It is ok to allow immigrants into a country to do the dirty jobs, until they want to maybe take a more prominent role in our society either by asking for community centres to be built (ask the Muslims in London or the Sikhs in Auckland), or even attempting to take political office. And definitely don’t let them play with your kids. Just watch the rocks go flying through your bay window.

Not kidding, as a kid I will always remember the night when it happened to us. The baby goodnight kiwi had come on T.V. and so I knew it was time for bed. As I got up and went to say good night to my Mum when all of a sudden, a rock came flying through our living room window, shattering glass that spilled on to the seat that I had just been sitting on. This was followed by a racist taunt and the sound of a car screeching away. Earlier that day, my older cousins had got into an altercation with some other kids of non-Pacific Islander descent while playing on the playground. It was assumed but never proven that it was those kids parent’s or older siblings, able to drive a car who must have cast the stone.

It’s funny, I’ve found that in our society, It is also ok for ‘gays’ to appear in cameo roles on T.V. as entertainers, becoming dancers, doing make-up and hairstyling; but don’t come out if you are in a corporate setting, and want a career in sport? well forget that idea. It is definitely ok for gay people to do hair and make up for brides, but ever dream of being the one getting married? Honey, you better sit your gay ass down and as Tamar Braxton would say. ‘Take a Seat, and get your life’.

And what about women? well outwardly, sure we talk about equal rights for women across the board. That they have the same freedoms as men to pursue their careers, to go into any field. But is this really true? Consider this, in todays modern society, a Woman is still 3 times more likely to be underemployed than a man despite sharing the same qualification, a Pasefika woman in New Zealand will take on average the longest of any demographic bracket to pay back their student loan. The number of women in Parliaments or Legislatures are less than 30% on average worldwide.

In the South Pacific this number is so embarrassingly low that the Australian Governor-General, in a recent address to the Samoan Parliament highlighted in a veiled statement the astoundingly low number of Women in Samoa’s parliament. It was ironic because she was announcing the Australian Government’s gift to Samoa on the 50th anniversary of Samoa’s independence, which was a refurbishment of Samoa’s parliamentary buildings. A building where men would wield all the political power, using a gift announced from a people whose representative is a woman.

Sure, some of you would say, it is all unfair, we know this. But I’m not a bigot, I’m not a racist, I’m not a homophobe, it’s all those people in power. The truth is though, your leaders are a reflection of your society. And your social views are a product of societal conditioning. Don’t believe me? well ask yourself this question.

How many times in the past year have you had something bad happen or saw something you didn’t like and yelled out “That’s just GAY’

Or seen a Rugby player perform badly on the field and scream out ‘Stop being such a girl’ or ‘He’s playing like a fag’, ‘stupid fagnuts’ and then afterward said that it’s ok to call them those names because you didn’t mean it. It was just a reaction.

And well, have you ever uttered the words ‘Stupid Asian’ ‘Typical Palagi’ ‘Stupid Islanders’

But what taught you to have those reactions? to belittle other people in the community based on their identity, an identity that has nothing to do with you. That doesn’t infringe on your ability to breathe.

It is because you have been conditioned to tolerate, not to accept.

You have been told, just leave them alone, they won’t do anything to you as long as you don’t do anything to them. But when they become involved in your community, a community that you being part of the majority of, has told them that they must behave in a particular way, and they choose not to, you get offended. ‘How dare they behave differently from me, I’ve been tolerating them all this time.’

It is because we want to be dominant over others. It is human nature, we are insecure beings, so we have to project these insecurities on to others so we can feel better about ourselves.

You are the problem. I am the problem, we are all part of the problem. Even within minority communities, there is a hierarchy that exists where we try to control those we think are our subordinates. I am a minority within a minority, and although I realise all these failings I still find myself sometimes uttering these words of superiority. ‘Ugh, Korean’s are this, Korean’s are that, Samoans are better than that, etc. etc.’

But all I’m doing is reinforcing a hierarchical order that continues to suppress minority groups because of my own insecurities.

The current discussions around things like Gay marriage, or in New Zealand the sale of the Crafar farms to the Chinese Consortium, as well as Paid Parental leave. seem to be based on moral judgements. Morals are important yes, I don’t deny this, but the underlying reason for each movement’s opposition has not been any real sense of rational arguments. The arguments have all been grounded in prejudices that were developed out of continual tolerance of the minorities, and no real attempt by the society and its individuals to accept these minorities.

We don’t want Chinese people owning New Zealand land; we don’t want those social deviants having the same rights as we normal people; We don’t want more Paid Parental Leave so more women can go back to work. They should just stay at home after giving birth like every good wife should do.

I have been on the outside my entire life, so it grates me so much when I hear people say such horribly inaccurate things about immigrants, Asians, Samoans, Gay people, about Women (ok I’m not a woman, but I was raised only by women) and that all these people have to have a place in society, and they should know that they sit at the bottom rung of the ladder.

So I guess what this post is attempting to do is in a roundabout way remind everyone that we are not as accepting as we may think we are. It hurts me when I hear people say things flippantly about my communities, and I speak up about it more now than I did before. But this goes hand in hand with me reminding myself to not do the same thing to other communities.

The thing is, we need to accept that tolerance is not enough, and we also need to realise that acceptance is far more than just tolerance.

The only way I’ve come to lose my preconceived notions of people has been through learning more about their communities. Finding out why they prefer to wear particular types of clothing, trying to understand the difference between me and my neighbour. And finally coming to accept them truly, for who they are.

And who knows, when you learn to accept others, maybe you’ll come to learn to accept yourself.

World Peace and Good Eats!

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