Our nation is at the bare minimum of a just society
Accepting or tolerating another person is not the same thing as caring about their wellbeing, celebrating their differences, or working to liberate them from discrimination and oppression.
Originally published by the Albuquerque Journal on August 11, 2017. Title selected by Albuquerque Journal editorial staff.
Because of the privilege that state Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, enjoys, he may not realize the truth that many people in New Mexico live in fear and are threatened daily. In this country, none of us are free until all of us are free. True freedom cannot exist until everyone can participate in society with full realization of their rights, dignity and self-determination. Commonly, people with varying political ideologies to call for freedom for all Americans without considering what freedom really means nor what it will take for us to get there.
Accepting or tolerating another person is not the same thing as caring about their wellbeing, celebrating their differences or working to liberate them from discrimination and oppression. The latter requires a level of critical thinking that comes from a place of self-awareness, selflessness, vulnerability and justice. Our communities should create equitable access to opportunity for everybody, regardless of who they are or who they love.
Revisionist history and colonial thinking perpetuate the intolerance Sharer seeks to address in his July 31 guest column, “Don’t confuse tolerance with acceptance.” The freedoms we consider fundamental to this nation were only made possible through the systematic enslavement, genocide, and cultural erasure of black, brown and indigenous people. This history continues today with the systematic marginalization and discrimination of people of color, the poor, those with disabilities, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ community members.
I’m not sure how a “gay hate crime” can be “spectacular,” as the senator claims, but I will remind readers of the tragic terror attack that happened last year at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 53 others were injured. It’s no coincidence that a majority of those people were queer, trans, black or brown.
As executive director of Equality New Mexico, I witness, I am told about, and I have experienced the violence and discrimination that our community members endure every day. These incidents demonstrate that we are, in fact, not a tolerant society. We live in fear and anxiety that our identities will attract others to harass us. Students avoid class for fear of being bullied. Transgender people are regularly denied access to health care. Muslims are harassed for their religious beliefs. The president actively undermines the rights of transgender military members, while at least 16 transgender people – mostly trans women of color – have been killed in the United States in 2017.
Violence is intolerance in action, which is perpetuated by ignorance of our history and the human experience of others. To advocate that we only tolerate difference causes our society to ignore the needs and threats to the existence of others. Tolerance is the bare minimum of how we should work to create a fair, equitable and just society. Rhetoric that says otherwise is unproductive and dangerous because it perpetuates the circle of violence.
Sharer says, “…we must never accept the intolerance of those who want to use laws to destroy our political positions or our faith,” and I largely agree. To clarify, we must never allow anybody to diminish or infringe our rights and liberties. We must stop those who seek to leverage the government, the law, or their faith to discriminate against our political positions, religion, race, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, ability, age or ancestry.
In New Mexico we have such legal protections, but for us to have a truly tolerant, accepting and liberated society, we have to strengthen those protections. We must acknowledge that people live at the intersection of multiple identities – that, for example, someone can identify as LGBTQ+, be active in their church, be a person of color, and still live under threat of harassment all at the same time. We must challenge ourselves to think deeper about our collective history. We must continue to interrupt bias and behavior that harms communities, of which Sharer’s commentary is no exception.