Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tolerating Intolerance

In recent weeks, I have experienced a number of reminders of how difficult it is to overcome intolerance.  There is intolerance at the local level - exhibited by a "locals only" sign I saw in Santa Cruz which reflects a mentality embraced by surfers and high school students in my own beach community in southern California.  I remember when my children were in high school, and even into college, there was a running debate about whose city affiliation was better between students who lived in one upper middle class beach city and those who lived in an adjacent upper middle class beach city geographically indistinguishable from the first one.  The young residents of each city felt the need to exclude the others from social gatherings.  Locals only.

There is intolerance of religion.  Witness the heated and unsavory debate about the proposal to build a mosque two blocks from the WTC site.  Witness the Time poll that shows substantial prejudice in our society against Muslims:
Yet the survey also revealed that many Americans harbor lingering animosity toward Muslims. Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — a slightly higher percentage than the 24% who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.

(I am not sure where Time got the 24% figure about Obama given that a Pew Poll today said the figure was 18%, still a disturbingly high percentage of people who are wrong about the President's religion.)

My son told me last night that, when he returned his junior year in high school to our local, upper middle class, white, suburban school, people called him a "Jew" and a "Nigger", the former because of his surname and the latter because he had picked up some dialect from friends at his more diverse former school.  Dr. Laura has been guilty of hurling the racial epithet recently and Sarah Palin supports her right to do so.

On May 1,1992 Rodney King said "Can we all get along?" as a plea to stop the violence arising from racial tensions here after the acquittal three days before of the police who were videotaped beating him.  Almost 20 years later, we show that we still cannot get along.  We show that we still do not tolerate those who are different from us. Our tolerance of intolerance continues notwithstanding efforts to change.  The Southern Law Poverty Center runs a program called Teaching Tolerance in an effort to educate our children to be open to those who are different  from them.   City College of San Francisco, itself a huge melting pot of over 100,000 students of every race, religion, socio-economic class and other persuasions, also has a wonderful website on teaching tolerance.  Unfortunately, notwithstanding all these efforts, our children do not seem to learn the lesson as evidenced by my son's experiences.  When will we all get along, if no one is really learning tolerance in our current educational system?  We can no longer afford as a society to continue tolerating intolerance.

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