Saturday, June 29, 2013

Selective Tolerance

by Bill Holmes

In the past few days we have seen examples of tolerance and intolerance. Many of those who are celebrating increased tolerance in one area are showing intolerance in another area. This is nothing new but it has been brought to the forefront, at least to me, this past week.

On the one hand the Supreme Court issued a couple of rulings that increased the governments tolerance of gay marriage and gay rights. On the other hand we have seen extreme intolerance in the case of Paula Deen.

I am glad that the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and failed to overturn a lower court ruling that California's ban on same sex marriage (Prop 8) was unconstitutional. While the Prop 8 ruling only applies to California and does not change the laws of the other states that ban same sex marriage it is a step in that direction. California has a population of over 38 million which is about 12% of the US population. Likewise the changes to DOMA do not force states to recognize gay marriages or provide equal benefits to same sex couples but it does affect over 1,000 federal laws and rules. I suspect it will take some time to sort out all the implications of the DOMA decision. These two rulings will increase tolerance of gays, at least in the eyes of the US and California governments. Ultimately when government enforces the civil rights of a minority public tolerance of that minority will increase. It doesn't happen overnight but it does happen.

The Paula Deen situation is a classic example of a feeding frenzy. People and companies can't distance themselves from Paula fast enough. They also can't wait to express their intolerance of Deen's past indiscretions and character. Full disclosure, I am not a Paula Deen fan. I don't like her over the top food or over the top personality. She was dishonest and disingenuous about her diabetes to the point of being dangerous to her viewers. I don't watch her TV shows, buy her cookbooks or any of her other products. In spite of that I don't think her current situation is right. At this point we don't really know exactly what she said or when she said it. We may never know all the facts but unless she has been discriminating against people and publicly spouting racial slurs recently, the punishment does not fit the crime.

Let's put this in context. Paula and I are within a month of being the exact same age and were both raised in the same part of the country. There are some differences, I'm a first generation southerner, she is not. I was raised in a large city, she was raised in a more rural environment. We were both raised in a segregated south. Yes folks, there were white only and colored only drinking fountains, restrooms, restaurants and hotels. Many of those places where blacks and whites both went had separate sections. Blacks had to sit in the balcony at the movie theaters. They had there own (inferior) seating sections at the baseball park and football stadium. Blacks might be allowed to go to the back door of a restaurant to get a takeout order but certainly couldn't sit inside with the whites. Of course the schools were segregated. My private school integrated with two blacks in the 1962-63 school year. The public schools were a  couple of years later. It's very probable that Deen never went to school with blacks. It's also a fact that she heard racial slurs as a part of normal conversation during her youth. I'm not just talking about the many slang names and terms used regarding African-Americans but every other ethnic group. Jews, Irish, Italians, Arabs, Germans, Polish, Hispanic, French, Gays and any other group you can think of had derogatory nicknames. Much of the time they weren't even used in a derogatory way or with malicious intent. Everybody used them at least sometimes. Most jokes made fun of one or more of these groups. They were different times. We can not judge the past based on the current standards and morals. What was acceptable in 1813 or 1913 or 1953 or 1963 may not be acceptable in 2013 and vice versa. Just as it will change again by 2033.

I have no idea when Deen last used a racial slur or in what context, she probably doesn't really remember either. I also don't know if she's a racist. What I do know is that the companies that are jumping ship left and right are complete hypocrites. I'm sure that the executives of those companies have used racial slurs in the past. Maybe their companies even discriminated against a minority at some point. Maybe they still discriminate against same sex couples. Herd mentality is in full bloom.

We all pick and choose what we tolerate and what we don't. I suspect that many celebrating the gains recently made by gays are intolerant of Paula Deen's indiscretions. I also think that many who are tolerant and supportive of Deen are intolerant of gays and same sex marriage.

We are all intolerant and prejudice about something. Me, I'm intolerant of hypocrites. What gets you going?  Maybe we should strive to be more tolerant of others' intolerances.


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