Hate crimes, hate speech, hate rhetoric, and intolerance are slowly returning to a state of normalcy that, as Americans, we thought finally came to an end.
- the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with
- the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group
- agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation
Tolerance does not mean you necessarily accept something—or someone—with open arms. Tolerance means you put up with it. Acceptance means you embrace it.
This past Friday, I experienced intolerance and hate speech twice in the same day.
I work in a fairly conservative aera with a community that encompasses little-to-no diversity in terms of cultural and racial backgrounds. Stepping out of my office to deliver a few packages downstairs, I approached three businessmen (all of which white and heterosexual) who have worked on the same floor with me as long as I have been there. They too were waiting for the elevator that would go down. In fact, they already pressed the button. When I approached, their conversation stopped and turned into complete silence with nothing but a few glares to each other. Once the elevator arrived, I waited for them to board it since they were there first.
They did not.
They told me they would rather wait for another one. Immediately catching on to this development, I pointed out that there would be no harm in all of us using it since we were headed to the same floor. Uncomfortably and begrudgingly (per their body language), they stepped on it. Needless to say, it was very silent and awkward elevator ride.
Here, the art of intolerance is beautifully crafted. Was it racism? Was it homophobia? Was it another form of prejudice that I am overlooking? On the other hand, was it nothing? Was this all in my head? That is what makes intolerance such an artful craft. At this end of the spectrum, a person can get away with their actions being viewed as normal and acceptable. In this case, intolerance was painted as uncertainty. Nothing was outright done to me, nor was I provoked. Yet, there was a sense of “otherness.” Otherness meaning there exists a norm, and everything else—the other. Before some of you jump and say that I’m are reading into it, look at yourself, your identity, your gender, your sexual orientation, and your overall background. It’s easy to say that if you fall in a group with a social privilege where body language would not speak for itself (pun intended).
Later that day, I engaged in a somewhat heated discussion on social media. In a nutshell, the conversation surrounded a meme that I deemed insensitive to trans* people and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. Did I need to engage? No. Did I want to? Yes. Did I attack? No…ish; it depends on who you ask.
Some said I too stirred the pot. I wouldn’t say I stirred the pot back, but instead made it a cook-off.
I don’t like fighting in any shape or form, but I am also not going to allow hatred and intolerance to become increasingly normalized. At this opposite end of the spectrum, the issue was trying to make a point (through a meme) at the cost of an already oppressed community. As a history academic who specialized in United States gender and sexuality, LGBTQ+ studies, and queer theory, I seized this moment to express how I felt, why I felt that way, and backed it up with concrete reasoning why it was offensive. Full disclosure: I am not trans*, but I know right from wrong. Additional full disclosure: no accusations were made of anyone being homophobic. It was an opportunity to educate an audience based on what I know from my studies and what I continue to experience in my daily life.
Humor cannot and should not be at the expense of any community. Granted, we all make inappropriate jokes from time to time—I know I do! However, if you’re going to share it for the world to see, then the world has the right to respond. Freedom of speech is a two-way door.
Well, in return for my effort, I received this comment:
“Holy Shit, someone using big Tumblr words. What do you identify yourself as? A gay unicorn, demisexual binary queer? Please kindly proceed to fuck outta here because you seem so easily triggered. If you can’t handle —‘s posts, which are hilarious and have great humor to them all the time, you’re going to have a tough time out there.”
That’s definitely one way to have dialogue.
After the “conversation” died down, I received a comment from a mutual party that while that comment was completely savage, I was just as aggressive and insulting. I was insulting by using knowledge and education to undermine the initial poster’s intelligence.
Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t education and knowledge the go-to resources to have peaceful, civil dialogue? Don’t we all agree the world would be a better place if everyone, especially our leaders, took that higher road? When they go low, aren’t we supposed to go high?
Again, this is the art of intolerance. Trying to neutralize one’s actions by justifying a reaction that is exponentially lesser in severity is just as much a part of the problem.
The irony is that the accusations of being overtly sensitive came from people who immediately removed themselves from the conversation, rather than stand by their posts, comments, and reasoning.
Some of you may be thinking that I am just as much as a coward, that I continue to hide behind a blog and doing nothing but spew words. You’re probably right. You’re probably wrong. I don’t know. What I do know is that when I’m not writing, I’m working full time for organizations with greater causes, volunteering at LGBTQ+ outreach centers, campaigning for political candidates who speak more about community and acceptance than not, and so forth. This blog? This is in-between everything else and during my free time. This is a chance to catch my breath, process my thoughts, and share a perspective that I won’t regret. What are you doing?
We live in a society today that, whether you like it or not, we all have a responsibility. Moreover, per the social media attacker, this isn’t about being sensitive. This is 2016. Your humor isn’t funny anymore. Nobody gets the privilege of thinking they are exempt from it all, from the social and cultural struggles around you. Nobody is allowed the privilege of living in a bubble free from #blacklivesmatter, the ramifications of the 2016 presidential election, increasing hate crimes, and increasing sexism. Everyone has a role and an influence.
The art of intolerance comes in many forms, under many masks, and from the many people in your life.
Cover image property of: Axcy.DeviantArt.com