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#ToleranceMeans that putting up with someone is not acceptance

Updated: Apr 8

Marquis Fulghum, Undergraduate, Arizona State University

I feel irritated when someone says they’ll “tolerate me.” I experienced a similar feeling trying to define “tolerance” for this essay. When someone says they will tolerate me, it invokes a negative idea or feeling and I’m not thinking this person accepts who I am. Early experiences taught me that if my behavior was being tolerated, there were negative consequences to look forward to ranging from verbal disputes to fist fights. If that word were used it meant that someone was low on patience and I would have to dial back on whatever they disliked or keep going and suffer the consequences. I also learned that my tolerance would not be rewarded the way I’d like.

When I enlisted in the Marines, I convinced myself that it would be an escape from the prejudice of the outside world, and I’d find satisfaction in my service with like-minded people. It goes without saying that there were good people I bonded with, but overall, it was dissatisfying.

Nothing went the way I thought it would. My peers expected me to be the quintessential Black male who played sports and was chronically angry, so I made it my business to break Black stigmas. I learned to swim, shoot, and speak properly. I avoided chicken and purple drinks, never touched watermelon, and, hell, I even stopped swearing for a few months. Near the end of my enlistment, I learned that none of it mattered and my identity was lost. I’d tolerated the ignorant rhetoric hoping people would see me as an individual, and not part of a monolith. My idea to change their minds backfired and I spent a year angry at myself. I compromised my identity by depriving myself of things I used to enjoy and changing mannerisms that were unique to me. What’s worse is that I alienated myself from the Black community. I couldn’t bond with them over the food, jokes, activities, or conversations because I forgot how to be genuine. The world I tried to convince rejected me, and I was unfamiliar to the people I called my own.

There are two types of tolerances in America. One involves putting up with something or someone and the other waiting patiently for different results. African Americans have been waiting for the end of systemic racism and for our fellow Americans to treat us the way they’d like to be treated. Our predecessors preached patience, but it is not a requirement for fair treatment. Therefore, the word tolerate irritates me. While someone tolerates my existence, I’m waiting to be seen as an equal and to be treated accordingly. James Baldwin asked White America how much time they needed to progress to equality and his statement encapsulates my frustration. It’s been difficult for me to watch Black people murdered in broad daylight and justice prolonged while their relatives and friends mourn. Yes, there are two different tolerances in America.

After examining my experiences, the past, and recent racial tension in America, I know tolerance is not the answer. Instead, asking questions like, “am I acceptant, kind, and empathetic,” are beneficial if we’re serious about bridging the divide.


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