In Terms of Diversity Initiatives, Tolerance is Not Enough

10/07/2015 05:35 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2016

Imagine a Black person starting a new position and attending Orientation. Within the context of orientation, a representative of the organization announces, with pride, that they have a tolerance program as part of their diversity initiatives. Wait. Stop. Tolerance? How is that appropriate within the context of any organization? On the one hand, tolerance refers to acceptance but usually within the mindset of something that one really disagrees with. Let's look at this another way. Does a parent merely tolerate his/her children? Does one tolerate his/her spouse? What about our parents? Do we tolerate them? Did your parents tolerate you? What about your classmates in school? Did you want them to tolerate you? How about your Teachers? What if your Teacher said to you, at any stages of your education, that in this classroom, I am going to tolerate your presence. The answer to some of these questions may be yes, but is that optimal? According to an article written by John Achrazoglou: "Diversity needs to go beyond tolerance. Tolerance is a first step. It is much better than conflict. But tolerance is a somewhat negative word, according to David See-Chai Lam, former lieutenant governor of British Columbia. To "tolerate" and to be "tolerated" involves an unequal relationship. Tolerance implies that the tolerator has the power to not tolerate."

You see, Black people are members of American society and deserve to be in any place and any space that any other person occupies in the workforce, even if the numbers are low. Often times, Black people find themselves as part of a very small group or the only Black person in an organization of predominantly White people. Black people do not want to be tolerated at such organizations that choose to move forward with diversity initiatives and hiring practices that are inclusive. Diversity is an effort of inclusiveness, to ensure that the workforce is not homogeneous. Homogeneity is not reflective of the American population as a whole. Hence, when an organization decides to ensure that diversity happens, it should not be within the context of tolerance of people of color, but valuing and appreciating individuals that will add to a vibrant milieu. "A just-released Census Bureau report shows that by 2044, whites will no longer comprise a racial majority in the United States."

If an organization chooses to have a tolerance program, the term must be clearly defined from a positive vantage point. An example of an excellent definition is: "Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference..."(UNESCO MOST Clearing House Declaration of Principles on Tolerance) http://www.learningtogive.org/resources/teaching-tolerance. But in reality, are organizations, on the whole, with tolerance programs defining the term is this way? I think not. So therefore, tolerance is not enough. It's not a start in the right direction. If not properly defined, it is limiting and demeaning. Valuing and appreciating is a better place to begin.