By Jack Bourassa
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”— Martin Luther King Jr.
February is Black History Month: the time of the year dedicated to reflecting on and honouring the legacy of Black Canadians, their stories, struggles, contributions, past and present. It’s the time to be inspired by the resiliency, celebrate victories and learn from the stories of courage. It’s the time to learn more about the past and condemn all acts of oppression— and make sure that they never happen again. As we celebrate this time of the year, it is important to stand firmly against anti-black racism and all forms of discrimination.
Black History Month is not only about celebrations; it’s an opportunity to reaffirm that we must live together as sisters and brothers. This responsibility falls collectively on everyone.
Whenever it’s time to celebrate occasions and events that recognize our diversity, there are always voices that emphasize the importance of tolerance. Let’s give this term a thought. By definition, tolerance is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions, beliefs, and practices that differ from one’s own.” Dictionary.com has more definitions that revolve around the same concept. And to tolerate is to endure. If we want to put this in a sentence: My tolerance toward loud music is limited. Once that threshold is passed, patience would vanish.
Imagine going to a place, and instead of welcoming you, the first person you meet says: Good afternoon, you’re tolerated here. How does that feel?
At a time when Trump continues to glorify his controversial “wall”, we’re all building walls of tolerance against each other. The difference is that, unlike Trump’s, our walls of tolerance are built in the name of coexistence. To tolerate your co-worker, an acquaintance, a community or family member, etc. means that their differences will not provoke you to cause them any harm. But at the same time, they are not going to be welcomed into a healthy social community life. It means that those who’re different would be endured, but not accepted and loved. The differences that divide people could be racial, religious, sexual orientation, etc. If tolerance is the only value used to establish coexistence, there would always be a wall between “us” and “them”— whoever “us” and “them” could be.
Tolerance alone would not help us have healthy communities safe for diversity and solid coexistence. Tolerance is not the goal. It’s only a stepping stone, that Canadians should have already passed decades ago. I invite you to never tolerate intolerance, but to always go beyond tolerance.
Acceptance is the answer—it will ensure a diverse society where we care for one another. While tolerance is something that could (and is required) to be established by laws, acceptance is not. It’s something that comes from within as a choice to walk on the path of building healthy communities. Let’s take a closer look at our workplaces and communities and ask the question: do we see tolerance or acceptance? Let’s work collectively together to establish acceptance. This begins with understanding, learning and good communication.
Abolish stereotypes and learn about the different diverse communities. Approach the learning experience with passion and love for one another— it’s time to cast all judgments away. Abandon “us” and “them” rhetoric, we are all one. In the labour movement, I’ve learnt that we’re all being affected in one way or the other by injustices and if we don’t stand together in solidarity, the impacts will be upon all. If we live in communities where social justice is prioritized, then everyone in the community will benefit. Let’s emphasize on what unites us and brings us together.
It doesn’t matter if you belong to the group facing the discrimination or not. Speak up if you see someone not being accepted in your workplace or community. Make sure that they feel accepted (not only tolerated) and help them to feel welcomed. If you witness an act of discrimination, then take an action to protect the targeted person or group. Be an ally and remember Niemöller’s words:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
We’ll live together as sisters and brothers when we learn to accept each other.
This column originally appeared in Yellowknifer on February 6, 2019.