Tolerance: Necessary but Insufficient
In his review of The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality, Scott Keiller analyzes arguments used to support the idea that “paternalistic benevolence maintains the status quo of structural and institutionalized power differentials” (section “Positioning Social Constructivism…,” para. 4). Although the book’s focus is the LGBTQ community, this is an issue relevant to other marginalized groups. The central concern is the value and sufficiency of tolerance, an expression of goodwill and kindness as those in power accept a limited range of behavior that runs counter to socially sanctioned ideals, in the quest for social justice. It’s not that The Tolerance Trap’s author ignores the increasing acceptance of gay marriage and military service or the fact that there are more television shows and movies featuring gay and lesbian characters. The author questions the extent to which these shifts represent true progress and acceptance of the entire continuum of non-heterosexual individuals, behaviors, and expression. Consider the fact that there is greater public acceptance of gay and lesbian individuals than of bisexual, transgender, and/or queer individuals. In addition, the public seems more comfortable when individuals are less openly gay than when individuals elect to engage in the same levels of self-expression afforded to heterosexuals. Finally, Keiller directs readers to the author’s observation that the “positioning of marriage as the optimal and most legitimate configuration for relationships and families is a tolerance trap that perpetuates hegemony and devalues other family arrangements” (section “Two Steps Forward…,” last para.).
The issues highlighted by Keiller led me to reflect on societal responses to other marginalized communities. For example, does the tolerance trap help to explain differences in White and African Americans’ responses to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown? There appears to be an inherent expectation that Black male youths dress and respond within a certain range in order to be free of unwarranted scrutiny and response from police officers and civilians alike. Does the expectation that women in leadership dress in certain ways reinforce masculine hegemony in business and politics? The operation of these unspoken expectations of conformity to social, political, and cultural patterns that affirm the superiority of the majority and the ways that it limits the rights of marginalized communities is an issue for psychology. Can psychological research lead the way to social change that is more focused on full social acceptance and inclusion than tolerance? What has psychological research revealed that might contribute to efforts to create a more inclusive society, whether we are addressing sexual orientation, gender, race/ethnicity, or other marginalized identities?
By Scott Keiller
PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(5)