Look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes. Build your own cultural competency, then keep working to expose discrimination wherever it happens — in housing, employment, education and more.
Tolerance, fundamentally, is a personal decision. It comes from an attitude that is learnable and embraceable: a belief that every voice matters, that all people are valuable, that no one is “less than.”
We all grow up with prejudices. Acknowledging them – and working through them – can be a scary and difficult process. It’s also one of the most important steps toward breaking down the walls of silence that allow intolerance to grow. Luckily, we all possess the power to overcome our ignorance and fear, and to influence our children, peers and communities.
It Begins With Me
Human rights experts recommend starting with the language we use and the assumptions we make about others. Am I quick to label people as “rednecks” or “illegals”? Do I tell gay jokes? Do I look with disdain at families on welfare, or do I try to understand the socio-economic forces that prevent many families from climbing out of poverty?
Here are other questions you might ask yourself:
>> How wide is my circle of friends? How diverse is my holiday card list?
>> How integrated is my neighborhood? My child’s school? My workplace? Why is that?
>> Do I take economic segregation and environmental racism for granted?
>> Do I have the courage to ask a friend not to tell a sexist or racist or homophobic joke in my presence?
>> Do I receive information about other cultures from members of those cultures, or from potentially biased, third-party sources?
>> Do I take the time to listen and learn from other people’s experiences — especially people with whom I might initially disagree?
>> How often am I in the minority?
Many good books, films and workshops can help guide you in self-examination. Reading the histories of other cultures and of different social justice movements — the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, the fight for gay rights, for example — is a good start.
Fighting for Systemic Change
Sooner or later, your personal exploration will bump up against issues that take more than one person to solve. Investigating your own prejudices will reveal a country with deep, systemic and unresolved prejudice and discrimination.
These issues cry out for answers and people to take them on. Experts warn that if we fail to tackle the root causes of intolerance, the efforts described in this guidebook will end up looking “like small points of light in a sea of overwhelming darkness.”
In any city and state there are dozens of problems to address: hunger, affordable housing, domestic violence, school dropout rates, police brutality — the list goes on. A caring group of people, having coalesced to deal with hate, could remain together to tackle any number of societal problems.
Luckily, most towns and cities have neighborhood or citywide organizations that bring together people of different backgrounds to work for change. If yours does not, there are plenty of resources available to help you start one.
Why not start today?
The most important step is the first one …