Acceptance · 15 January 2007

I have not quite gotten this newspaper column thing down yet. If I was planning on writing a piece about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I should have done it weeks ago in anticipation of the day. Instead, it is the day set aside to honor his birth and accomplishments and I find myself thinking and writing about how far we still need to go to reach Dr. King’s dream.

I am not much of a voice of social conscience or a political activist by any means but I do try to keep my environment free from people who make disparaging remarks about others. It does not matter whether they are making specific remarks about an individual or sweeping remarks about any group of people. As a teacher, I do my best to not just chastise my students who think they need to make unkind or teasing remarks about a person’s ethnicity or other characteristics. I try to help them understand that even when a person says it is okay, words do hurt. I let them know that it has been my experience that the wounds from sticks and stones heal more quickly than those from mere words.

Unfortunately, there are those in society who teach that it is okay for people to make disparaging remarks about a person’s color or religion or other physical characteristic. As long as it is made about the group to which the teller is associated. Comedians can tell racial or off-color jokes without fear of reprisal as long as they are talking about a group of people to which they belong. Perhaps people laugh at the shared experiences rather than the racial nature of the jokes. I do not know. Perhaps I have become more politically correct than I would like to be. But I just do not like those kinds of jokes. I do not like when people put down others. Even in a joke.

I know that I will not change the world with a column in a small town local newspaper. I know that comedians will continue to tell whatever jokes people find funny. But if I could change one thing, it would be to get rid of the word “tolerance” when talking about relating to people of other colors or religions. To me, that word is a way to keep the status quo. Tolerance is what has happened to keep and prolong racial inequality in our society rather than get rid of it. After all, we can tolerate that people of color or women hold high positions in companies and government but we may not like it. Back when Rosa Parks was refusing to move to the back of the bus, people could not tolerate such a thing. If she was sitting in the front of the bus today, would people merely tolerate the fact that the laws had changed or would people accept her as a valued member of society? I wonder.

I wonder if people just use the word tolerance to let others know that they are not happy with immigrants speaking in their native tongues but can tolerate it because it might hurt their business not to do so. I wonder if we tolerate those we do not look like because we need to do so in order to not get in trouble.

I would not presume to interpret what Dr. King or other great men and women have said about race relations and equality but I think we do a disservice to their memory when we merely tolerate each others’ differences. We may not embrace those differences but we can accept them and understand them. Some people would say that it is just semantics but I do think that we can get to a place where people are judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, as Dr. King so eloquently put it, as long as we just tolerate rather than truly accept each other.

I do not quite have this column thing down yet but maybe next year I will think more about Dr. King and his accomplishments long before the day commemorating his birth and life arrives. And even though one little column in one little newspaper in one little community may not make the difference in how we think about human relations globally, maybe we can truly appreciate rather than just tolerate each other in one little place on this earth.

© 2007 Michael T. Miyoshi

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