Tolerance is created when people from different social groups celebrate their commonalities and their differences as positive things. Establishing connections with the diverse range of people around you makes it difficult to hold onto deep-rooted prejudices and yet being connected to the world online isn’t a cure-all for intolerance, hatred, and bigotry.
Some argue that, if anything, the internet fuels bigotry and makes it easier for fascists to target their intended victims. There has recently been a lot of pushback from some of the most prominent online platforms such as Twitter to curtail hate speech and harassment but maybe this is too little too late? [Marcotte, 2016]
Thomas Mair, the fascist extremist who murdered MP Jo Cox was able to connect to Nazi organisations in the US and South Africa online, and for many who have such far-right ideologies it’s probably really easy to create a “white power” echo-chamber while sitting at their PC. [Cobain, Parveen and Taylor, 2016]
Recent events such as the election of Donald Trump in the USA and the popularity of far-right politicians and groups across Europe such as UKIP. Britain First and Marian Le Pen make the world seem like a bleak, desperate place. Justifiably, many who are part of minority communities are looking at the societies they live in and wondering what this means for their very existence.
‘I’ve had enough of being tolerant’ a friend of a friend wrote on Facebook recently, ‘why should I tolerate racists and nazis?‘, it’s a fair question and one that I have seen asked by many people who ask why they should tiptoe around people who are “blatantly racist.” When Donald Trump was elected as the next president of the USA this was a charge levelled at people who voted for him but, in all reality, the cause for his popularity is not binary – racist people or not racist people. There are a number of causes for people choosing to vote for someone so controversial. Trump was the most popular candidate among white supremacists, but to charge everyone who voted for him as racist is disingenuous and it breaks down bridges before they can even be built.
Stating that you’re through with being tolerant is, well… intolerant. Sorry, but it is. And that’s fine. Sit this one out and don’t engage with people who think differently than you.
Tolerance in its most common form involves maintaining an objective attitude towards those who opinions and practices are different than our own. When people speak of being tolerant they usually mean this in the context of us championing the behaviour we would see others do too by being tolerant, open-minded and friendly. You can do this by engaging with people from different cultures, educating yourself about civil rights movements (and history) in your area, or visit local museums, galleries and exhibits that celebrate art forms of different cultures, for example.
Tolerance isn’t about having to let people who are fascists or bigots have their say without being challenged just because they have a right to voice their opinions (which they do, as do you.) You can’t co-exist with people who carry harmful prejudices in their heads and hearts and nobody should expect anybody to do so.
The most effective way to combat hate speech, intolerance, and ignorance is by speaking up and countering mistruths with facts. It isn’t surprising though that so many people are too overwhelmed to even consider engaging with the fascists we see in the news right now and that’s fair enough.
Tolerance in that context, however, is recognising that prejudices are learned and can be unlearned. When people quite rightly call for tolerance in times of political and social turmoil like these they’re not asking people to not protest, challenge bad ideas, claims and speech, but are asking that we think about the way in which we engage with the people being challenged to make our words and actions the most effective they can be.
It’s important to remember that a lot of intolerant opinions don’t come from attention-seeking white people who throw nazi salutes when the news cameras are pointed at them. The media focus on the most outlandish examples of what is often labelled as “the alt right” – goosestepping, nazi saluting, “nigger“-screaming fascists whose minds will very rarely be changed. Instead, the day-to-day intolerance comes from the old lady in the corner shop, the teenager on the bus who parrots what his parents say, the woman who doesn’t know her stereotyping is offensive.
These are the people with prejudice opinions that we can contribute to changing if we try. The least we can do is stay silent or abuse people back (even if it does feel good), the most we can do is lead by example and show those minorities that are currently being persecuted the most that not everyone hates them. We can show the people guilty of casual prejudice that their words are not acceptable and their opinions are wrong.
Hey, you could even campaign politically and make your voice heard on these issues which get voted on, and bills and motions that get passed by your elected officials.
Nobody has an obligation to counter bigoted opinions when they see or hear them but promoting tolerance doesn’t have to be about engaging people who have bigoted opinions and beliefs. It’s just about being better than that and considering how terrible these folks can be, that’s easy.
Cobain, I, Parveen, N, and Taylor, M, (2016), The Slow Burning Hatred Which Led Thomas Mair To Murder Jo Cox [online], The Guardian, Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/23/thomas-mair-slow-burning-hatred-led-to-jo-cox-murder?CMP=share_btn_tw (accessed 24/11/2016)
Marcotte, A (2016), The Internet’s bigot crisis: There’s a new push to curtail online bigotry, but the toxic sludge of hate is too enormous to erase [online], Salon, Available at http://www.salon.com/2016/06/01/the_internets_bigot_crisis_theres_a_new_push_to_curtail_online_bigotry_but_the_toxic_sludge_of_hate_is_too_enormous_to_erase/ (accessed 24/11/2016)