When you do live television as much as I do, you get used to being ready to talk about anything at a moment’s notice. Once, I was told the topic would be the economy, but the topic switched to Afghanistan 30 seconds before air. Or you get so used to the rhythms of particular shows that even the slightest variation can throw you off. The latter happened to me last night on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” during a discussion with guest anchor Ari Melber and William Rhoden, a columnist for the New York Times, about the cultural significance of the draft of Michael Sam and the kiss seen ’round the world.
Rhoden: When you are the first, it can’t just be a one-way street. I mean, you have to expect to get pushback. And there’s going to be pushback.
Melber: What kind of pushback do you have to expect?
Rhoden: What we saw on Twitter. Now, that was ignorant pushback. A lot of that was ignorant pushback. We have the same problem about racism in this country. And it’s interesting that as we speak now we have two dynamic things going on. In the NBA, they’re dealing with racism. The NFL is now dealing with sexuality. And I think that to deal with things openly there has to be an open, back-and-forth dialogue.
Tolerance can’t just work one way. You can’t just be one way, that anybody who speaks out — now, I think you can speak out a certain — if you speak out of ignorance you can — but I think people — this cannot turn into a Gestapo-type situation where if you express discomfort with something then you’re cast as a homophobe and you’re fined by the league. I think there has to be back and forth. . . .
All I’m saying is that when you are a pioneer, whether you’re Jackie Robinson — when you’re a pioneer, there’s a certain responsibility that’s going to come with being a pioneer. A certain weight that you’ve got to carry.
As you can see from the video, I was thrown off, not ready with a well-thought-out retort to Rhoden. So, I’ll try to do better here.
The notion that “tolerance can’t just work one way” was off-putting. While I agree that “there has to be back and forth” in discussing issues in which there are different points of view and beliefs and that pioneers have “a certain weight” they have to carry, I reject the notion that the pioneer or the person making others feel “discomfort” is the one who has to compromise himself or herself any further to make others feel better.
No, tolerance is not a two-way street. The suggestion that tolerance doesn’t lead inexorably to great inclusion is bizarre. Quite frankly, I loathe the word tolerance in this context. No one wants to be tolerated for who they are. Folks want acceptance. All Michael Sam wants is acceptance. And he shouldn’t have to apologize for or be skittish about reveling in a life-changing moment with the person he loves because of someone else’s “discomfort.”
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