tol·er·ance – [tol-er-uhns] – noun 1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry. 2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own. 3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.
On April 4, we will reflect upon the 40th anniversary of the death of America’s apostle of peace, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To mark the occasion, it is worth noting all of the changes that have come about since his untimely death.
The country has become a melting pot of diversity, and this is especially conspicuous in Los Angeles, where more than 100 distinct languages are spoken.
Blacks have attained positions of leadership in the hierarchy of both major political parties, and have produced a viable candidate for the highest public office in the land.
In the decades following his murder, questions have been raised about the circumstances, along with a flurry of legitimate research and knee jerk accusations revolving around conspiratorial speculation. The articles, books, and other media generated in its wake, while failing to appease suspicions about the official verdict on his demise, have ensured a place in the canon of American historical mythology. Meanwhile, a national memorial commemorating his life is scheduled for completion this year in Washington D.C.’s National Mall, the site of his historic “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963.
Perhaps the most definitive testament to his legacy is the legions of detractors and adherents simultaneously attempting to malign his reputation and appropriate it for their own agendas. Examples of this include white supremacists defaming his character and Republicans who claim him as embracing their ideology. On the other side of the globe, the American Islamic Congress is republishing a Civil Rights Era comic book in Arabic (called “The Montgomery Story”) in the hope of providing a nonviolent alternative for the volatile Middle East (the comic may be accessed and read in both Arabic and English at www.hamsaweb.org/comic/ ).
And at the same time, we continue to struggle with the same issues Dr. King and his colleagues sacrificed to achieve right here in America. Random killings are a common occurrence in many of our local neighborhoods, and no one would argue that the defining characteristics by which we may be judged may be the color of our skin, personal practices, rather then the content of our character as he so fervently wished.
Blacks in particular perceive being shoved aside by other ethnic groups financially. Today, in an increasingly tight economic environment, there is additional pressure to compete for what appears to be an ever shrinking portion of the pie. The principle adversaries a few short years ago, the Koreans, have largely been replaced by Hispanics. It is a small comfort to realize that these rifts are not confined to this country alone.
Disagreement is, perhaps, a given in life, as even Catholics and Protestants have vastly different ideas about how one should worship to ostensibly the same Jesus. Christians are not alone in having conflicting perceptions of faith, we recently have had the opportunity to see hideous examples of among the Sunni and various denominations of Shia Muslims that struggle to exist within the boundaries of Iraq alone. But then again, zealots with the appropriate initiative can find excuses for intolerance within the pages of both the Quran and the Bible. Interpretation after all is in the eye of the reader of the text.
Even in these times of multiculturalism it is easy to give the cold shoulder to those who don’t fit into the parameters of what we consider to be the acceptable “cultural norm,” but the difficulty to embrace tolerance, the ability to respect others goes far beyond racial designations as individuals from nearly identical ethnic and social backgrounds compete for arbitrary or imagined differences. This may be best illustrated by the continued causalities in the gang warfare that has become a stereotypical attribute for Los Angeles’ inner city.
Tolerance, like its polar opposite, is a double edged sword. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, like virtually all religions have individual histories seeped in blood soaked quests to further their own particular point of view to the un-believers who make up the rest of the world. It is possibly the most human of all traits to believe that the center of the world (and hence the very definition of what “normal” is) should revolve around the self. Conversely, it is easy to be drawn into the persecution of others (any one who disagrees with this need only spend an extended period of time observing the peer interactions at any elementary school playground), since the urge to exclude is nearly as strong as the urge to belong.
Presently we find ourselves in an era in which public faith in the leadership of American government has never been lower. And intolerance, be it cultural, ethnic, geographical, racial, or other remains a constant focus of scrutiny in the media. Globally, diplomatic attempts to mediate long standing disputes and atone for the past often serves to widen the divisions between groups and foster new disagreements.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that King died in the middle of his last crusade, the Poor People’s Campaign, and today we witness an ever growing gap between rich and poor, the haves and the have nots, and nowhere is this manifest to greater effect then right here, locally, in Los Angeles, the pinnacle of conspicuous consumption and unbridled materialism.
As we prepare to observe this solemn occasion, aside from the construction of memorials, naming of schools, and participating in ceremonies, let’s make an effort to strive to meet the agendas that are emblematic of his memory, including the promotion of mutual respect and understanding among different cultures. True and lasting peace will not transpire until we recognize the right of everyone to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, without distinction to race, color or national origin.