Saturday, March 13, 2010

Acceptance vs. Tolerance, Integration vs. Segregation

I recently returned from a week-long trip to the Bay Area in California. I arrived there with a pure sense of excitement: my only other trip to California was many years ago as a young kid, and I only have vague memories of that because of pictures.

As I went about the week, I began to realize just what is great about California. Sometimes, people say things like, "only in California" and the like. I began to realize why.

Now: normally when I go on trip alone, I don't really turn on the television set. I watch enough TV at home. I don't have a need to watch it while traveling; there is just so much more to do, to explore, to experience..

But this time, I happened to catch the news on a local TV channel. I caught coverage of an incident regarding anti-gay graffiti at an area university. I'll never forget a San Jose local's reaction while we discussed the incident.

I explained to him that if something like that happens in Milwaukee, the media basically does nothing and nobody wants to talk about it. His reaction? One of amazement and disbelief.

That was when I realized just what it was about California that gets people to say, "only in California."


You see, when something like that happens in Milwaukee, the news media doesn't pick it up. In fact quite the opposite: its almost as though Milwaukee society accepts that hateful incidents happen -- not just to LGBT people but to all cultural groups -- and simply does not care. True acceptance would include fair coverage of issues affecting people of different sexual orientations and gender identities. Milwaukee seems to tolerate us, acknowledging issues and incidents only when pushed hard enough.

I haven't checked statistics recently, but I certainly do continue to have this perception that Milwaukee is among the most segregated cities in the nation. Some would say that it is the result of a divisive freeway structure, which broke up neighborhoods and cultural groups years ago. Nevertheless, if Milwaukee's communities work together the media doesn't seem to take notice. The media sometimes reduces news to the point where they reinforce stereotypes, diluting the positive efforts within the community. Each neighborhood does their own thing, each community does their own thing, and it could be my ignorance but there just doesn't seem to be any collaboration amongst Milwaukee's segregated communities.

That is really too bad.

San Francisco and the Bay Area must be doing something right. Especially compared to places like Milwaukee. You see, I would say that that the general attitudes in Milwaukee are of tolerance and segregation -- not acceptance and integration.

Even though there are distinct neighborhoods, each with their own distinct identity, they are clearly a part of the integrated fabric that is San Francisco. Driving through the Bay Area I could feel the pride that the area shows in its diversity. I don't feel that here in Milwaukee. You can feel that each community in the Bay Area is integrated into the greater whole and not segregated. Signs for the diverse neighborhoods are prominent throughout and in multiple languages. People from all walks of life are visible everywhere, comfortably living their lives. These are indications that the area's diversity is accepted and integrated -- not just tolerated and segregated.

Stampp Corbin said it best in a recent article: "Acceptance says a lot more about what we want to achieve." I would completely agree. Check out what he had to say about acceptance vs. tolerance.

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