I’ve found that increasingly, I’m being told I’m not “tolerant.” It’s pulled out condescendingly by conservatives, with insistence that “tolerance demands tolerance” and that if I want people to be tolerant of me and people like me, I have to be tolerant of them.
Of course, there’s subtext to this. The main thing that skitters under my skin is the idea that I need to be “tolerated” in the first place. I don’t like to whip out the dictionary all the time, but I think it’s warranted here:
1. allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.
2. accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.
I’d like to address those conservatives now. Let’s tackle these definitions one at a time, shall we?
1. First, you do not allow people to exist. You do not allow them to exist as black, or gay, or disabled, or any other minority you find distasteful. If you think you have the right to “allow” people to exist, congratulations, you’re a Nazi.
Second, note that “without interference” part? That’s the part where all you “tolerant” people fail. You tolerate your gay coworker, but vote against gay marriage. You tolerate your black neighbors, but donate money to Darren Wilson. You tolerate the disabled clerk at the grocery store, but protest that historic buildings should never be “defaced” by retrofitting handicap access. This shit is interference. You are directly interfering with the lives of minorities when you do these things, and a laundry list of other microaggressions. Abled and parking in handicap spots? Interference. Writing angry Facebook statuses about JC Penney for featuring gay parents? Interference. Gossiping about the Mexican family that moved in down the street? Interference. See how this works?
2. Can we start with “endure” here? Because can anyone, in any way, explain to me how “enduring” something doesn’t imply it’s somehow torturous? You don’t endure an entire class of people. You may have to endure individuals, like your boarish mother-in-law or your nosy neighbor, but there is nothing inherently bad about minorities that make us a burden on you. You don’t get to lump minorities together, and based on your stereotypes, call our very existence a harrowing ordeal for you.
But let’s go ahead and run with “acceptance,” since it’s the kinder of the two words. Acceptance is okay, right? Doesn’t everyone want to be accepted? But there’s a problem with acceptance. When we are accepted into the fold, instead of viewed as part of the tapestry to start, we are still othered within that context. Our existence is allowed, but our minority status remains an issue to all the privileged people who see themselves as so benevolent for accepting us. They will continue to hold harmful stereotypes, continue to think of us as fundamentally different kinds of humans. This not only continues to be actively harmful, but also puts minorities in a delicate position of either standing up for ourselves and risking loss of that acceptance or staying silent and accepting that we’re still viewed as lesser humans because of who we are.
And forbearance? Really? It takes restraint for you to tolerate us? Exactly how much restraint are we talking? Like you bite your tongue when you want to call me a “cripple,” or like you have to actively restrain yourself from inflicting physical harm on me for being queer? Because I’m really not okay with anything on that spectrum.
But the absolute key to this entire thing is that part which both definitions have in common: That tolerance is about someone or something disliked, disagreed with, and unpleasant. Just like with the whole “allow” nonsense, you do not get to “disagree” on a minority’s personhood. We are still fully-developed humans, I assure you, and there is nothing about our inherent beings that should beg agreement or disagreement. We simply are, and should be allowed to be. Disliking us for being who we are, finding us unpleasant for our very existence, that’s not accepting, and it’s sure as hell not respectful. But since when have you worried about respecting us?
It’s in this way that people turn “tolerance” into a weapon to use against minorities. Because all those microaggressions, all those stereotypes, we’re told we need to tolerate them, or we’ll be given even less respect. Our human status will be revoked, and you’ll return to outright hating us, instead of resenting us in quieter ways. And that threat comes with real danger to us, so the idea of losing that “tolerance” is actively terrifying for a great many of us.
This cat is tolerant. Be better than this cat.
So no, I don’t want tolerance. To quote Hari Kondabolu, tolerance is a low bar for humanity. And I therefore owe no tolerance to those people enforcing ableist, heteronormative, racist, or otherwise bigoted social norms.
And it’s those norms–those precious, precious norms–that we need to challenge and change. Because that is what minorities need: Complete and utter normalcy. Our minority statuses should not other us, they should simply exist as things we know and recognize but which don’t make our lives more difficult or dangerous.
Now don’t get me wrong, I tolerate lots of harmful things. Mosquitoes. Commercials. Cramps. But I refuse to tolerate bigoted viewpoints that actively other and harm minorities. And I ask for no tolerance in return. Love me or hate me, just fucking respect and normalize me. It’s really not that much to ask.