It Take Tolerance to Teach...Have we Overcome?
By: Archie Wortham

“It takes tolerance to teach tolerance,” Michael Greene said during the Grammy Awards ceremony back in 2001. That speech has so resonated with me I want to share it with you in its entirety:

“This has certainly been a dynamic year for music -- all you have to do is look at the diversity represented on this stage tonight to witness the walls of division crumble under the weight of a connected world. Of late, the controversy over extreme lyrics has been a heat-seeking missile and it is important to remember that the Academy is not here to defend or vilify, commercialize or censor art. We are here to recognize those recordings that are notable, noticeable and oft times, controversial. People are mad, and people are talking. And that's a good thing because it's through dialogue and debate that social discovery can occur.

“Listen, music has always been the voice of rebellion -- it's a mirror of our culture, sometimes reflecting a dark and disturbing underbelly obscured from the view of most people of privilege, a militarized zone which is chronicled by the CNN of the inner city -- rap and hip-hop music. We can't edit out the art that makes us uncomfortable. Remember, that's what our parents tried to do to Elvis, the Stones and the Beatles.

“The white teenagers from the suburbs buy a majority of the music in question. They live out their rebellion and delineate their rite of passage vicariously through this music, and most of the adults who pass judgment have never listened to -- or more to the point, have never even engaged their kids about -- the object of their contempt.

“This is not to say that there's not much to fear in this violence-drenched society of ours; we should genuinely be concerned about the younger kids, the latch-key kids who are not experienced and don't have a relevant parental connection to help them understand what's real and what's shock theater. Accept the fact that musicians, movie stars and athletes are not perfect, they make mistakes and can't always be counted on to be role models. Art incites, entices, it awes, and angers, it takes all its various incarnations to maintain the balance, vitality and authenticity of the artistic process. Let's not forget that sometimes it takes tolerance to teach tolerance.”

We sometimes forget how we overcame. As Greene told the audience “it’s through dialogue and debate that social discovery can occur.” As we listen to the songs today, they may not resonate like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or ‘Where have all the flowers gone,” but we need to remember it is through each other we are able to find that ‘bridge over troubled waters.’ And we are troubled in America today. There is a degree of disunion that seems intent on keeping us from being united.

Most of the teenagers today don’t know about our plight. They don’t know about how we ‘old people’ were beaten, taken to jail, had dogs released on us. Today’s parents and grandparents who lived in the 60s, boycotted busses in Montgomery, drug store counters in South Carolina and Tennessee, and as members of the NCAA championship basketball team, the Texas Western Miners were not allowed to stay where the University of Kentucky basketball players stayed—because they were ‘colored.’. These heroes and icons who you won’t see on a cereal box, or a Super Bowl commercial are the ones of us who gave rise to the decades of liberation. These are the ones responsible for the future they gave to you to win, and many of you are just throwing away. The real heroes are in our homes, next door, in the classrooms, not “musicians, movie stars and athletes.”

Many of the social epiphanies that surfaced in our country, the women’s movement, the gay rights’ movement, even the counter-culture males’ movement found traction in the civil rights movement that helped us realize it was important to keep an ‘Eye on the Prize.’ That prize was freedom, equality, the pursuit of happiness. We learned tolerance because we were victimized by intolerance. We overcame for young people today would have a better future. But do you? Have you claimed it?

A participant in a Dialogue Day on African-American Males said something that many fear may be the truth, how tolerance might make it too easy. “Sometimes I wonder if we were not better served in a segregated system. Black teachers, male and female, taught our kids. Despite their shortcomings, those schools were affirmative places for our kids. Today’s schools are not affirmative for African American boys. Every day these schools let these kids know what’s wrong with them.”

It took courage to make such a candid comment, but statistics tell us that maybe this is true. Among Latinos, a participant in a Dialogue Day on Hispanic Males commented: “Latino students need teachers they can connect with. They come to school only to learn that all they have known all their lives is wrong or taboo.”

Is this tolerance? Of course it isn’t. But in order for things to change, in order people to make a difference there is a crossing of aisles that needs to happen not just in Congress, but in neighborhood, hallways, and in the hallowed sanctums of boardrooms, as we realize we cannot do this alone. Men need other men to help them raise men. Women need men to help them raise sons. Schools need men to help provide mentors for young boys. Society needs men to accept the roles society expects them to fulfill and none of those is more important than the realization that men are an important tool in raising families, educating citizens and bringing about change. And men, we need to cross the aisle too, to embrace the men, women and society who will tolerate our mistakes, encourage our ambition, and teach us to accept we can make a difference, and we can!