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Tolerance Fatigue

by Decker Ngongang

March 7,2008

Tolerance Fatigue, as an urban slang term, means publicly accepting and promoting a belief or mission when the lights are on, but not fully applying those beliefs to our daily actions, our voting behavior and the opinions under-girding our most personal decisions when the lights are off.


Now, politically, this can be a very heavy concept. Tolerance Fatigue is very much in play in the context of our community conversation on how to solve social issues and improve the lives of people struggling in our city. In the last 18 months, I have attended meeting after meeting touting the “can’t we all get along” axiom sponsored by both predominantly white organizations and black organizations, yet I wonder why we are still a very segregated city and why the many races of people still on the whole don’t trust each other.

We continue to lie to ourselves by advocating diversity while our schools, churches, restaurants, bars, neighborhoods, and interpersonal relationships remain overtly segregated. Interracial trust requires our community to break down not only our conversations in public spaces, but our at-home prejudices, the artificial standards we perpetuate, and the images we allow to influence us.

We shouldn’t just measure ourselves by how much we give to charity or how many community meetings or community building organizations we belong to – instead, we should also be conscious of our commitment to the beliefs we espouse by how much our private lives are consistent with what we say publicly.

To find remedies for Charlotte’s most distressing issues, we must have the “tolerance endurance” to cast a daily vote in favor of the beliefs in our heart. The relationships we engage in, the schools our children go to, and the ways we choose to recreate are all truer indicators of our beliefs.

In my day job, I try to show young adults how they can be a part of the civic process everyday. Through their everyday actions they can influence change in the issues they care about. We have the opportunity to challenge each other to become intentional in the same fashion, especially with the most pressing and most polarizing issues in our community.

I fundamentally believe many of us are ready and willing to live our beliefs fully and intentionally. The problem is some of us are just not good at being honest with ourselves. Many of us seem to have a finite distance we are willing to go in the name of diversity and this line is often determined by the default rules that exist in society.

This community’s political and social conversations have shown us time and time again that we as a society and community aren’t that good at being real with what’s really going on in our heads. It’s kind of like making a resolution to lose weight but continuing to eat at McDonalds for every meal. To achieve the desired results of successful tolerance and inclusiveness initiatives, we must resist and intentionally attack the vestiges of socialized racism and segregation.

It will take sacrifices from all of us to create the Charlotte we desire. We must expand our consciousness to fully appreciate and act on the beliefs we espouse. And when the end-game is community, don’t even think about it as sacrifice. Think of it as just a healthy workout.

I have committed this New Year to exercise not just at the YMCA, but also at the gym of socialization. I have to stop allowing tolerance fatigue to keep me from living out the totality of my beliefs. I have engrained, but not innate, internal prejudices that provide the foundation for the boundaries I place on both my life, but also what I consider “right and wrong.”  I have to resist those prejudices to push on with the work of inclusion.  We have to examine our own prejudices and see if we are really ready for equality, and justice, and an intentionally integrated society. Tolerance Fatigue is negated only when we work those muscles of inclusiveness, by constantly testing the beliefs in our heart through our daily interaction and the choices we make and subsequently analyze.

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