Tolerance: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
Acceptance: the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.
Yesterday a story hit the local news here in Maine, the state’s attorney general filed civil rights violation charges against a man who was alleged in a case of road rage gone really wrong to have shouted a racial slur at a Black woman and later yelled at her “I should hang you up in that tree behind you, over there where you belong!”
In a state like Maine that is known for being quite tolerant, this news is quite jarring for many. After all this is not the backwoods of Arkansas where my dad as a young boy did have the luxury of seeing a man lynched. However this man’s alleged actions aren’t surprising to me at all. Nope, I am not surprised; wish I could say that I was surprised.
Maine is a very tolerant state, in fact it is so tolerant that for most of my eleven years here, I made the mistake of thinking that tolerance was acceptance since on the surface, they often seem to be the same thing. However tolerance is not acceptance, in fact to the one whose presence or lifestyle is being tolerated, there comes a point when you realize that you are not part of the group.
Recently I was talking with a friend of mine who is gay, he and his partner settled here not long after I moved here and like me over the years he has worked hard to become a part of the community. It was by dumb luck that we ended up having this discussion, where he shared feelings that felt eerily like mine. His feelings were so identical to mine that at one point, I thought he had had gotten a hold of my private journal and was regurgitating back feelings that I have written down over the years. That after a decade here, he too felt he was only tolerated and that the weight of merely being tolerated was too much to bear.
Tolerance allows us to pay lip service to acceptance without doing the heavy lifting of acceptance. It allows us to pat ourselves on the back when we have done nothing to deserve those pats on the back. It also allows people of difference to feel they have a place at the table when really you just invited us to your house but pretty much ignored us after saying hello.
The danger with tolerance is that it allows us to think that the ugliness of yesterday is all gone when really all we have done is toss it in the back closet in the spare room that we never go into. So that when we hear about racist road rage types we can become righteously indignant when in reality we aren’t that far removed from such ugliness ourselves. While we may never utter ugly words, we also don’t truly accept people who are different than us because in the end we keep them at arm lengths as the different and exotic beings that they are in our minds and we teach our kids to respect them but really the cycle of tolerance without acceptance goes on and nothing really changes.
So yeah, Maine is a tolerant state, in part due to the deeply private nature of its natives but let’s not mistake that for acceptance. While most of us won’t engage in racist road rage, we are only one or two more steps evolved than the fella who did.
As for me, this Black Girl in Maine is tired of being tolerated and looking for a place where acceptance is possible.
PS: I know my posts have been heavy with emotions lately, I suspect that will pass at some point until then; this is my space to share what is suitable for public sharing.