Life’s Matters: A World of Social Acceptance
In her previous two posts, Social Tolerance is Unacceptable and Do Tolerance Laws Change Society? Billie Wade explored social tolerance and how laws can promote intolerance. Here, in Part 3 of this four-part series, she looks at possibilities for moving toward a world of freedom, inclusion, and equality—social acceptance.
Social acceptance is the cascade of open, trusting, deep, and positive regard for others. We recognize the right to a life of dignity for all people, regardless of skin color. We learn how the sharing of resources, whether financial, creative, or intellectual, enhances all as everyone receives equal opportunities for expression and participation. Social acceptance tells us to honor the desires of all people to live as fully as possible—peace of mind; safety from predation whether verbal, emotional, financial, or physical; a livable income; decent, affordable housing; clean water; adequate food; affordable health care; quality, affordable education; opportunity to self-express; the ability to participate in society; and, a supportive community.
C. Nathan DeWall and Brad J. Bushman write in Social Acceptance and Rejection: The Sweet and the Bitter, “Social acceptance means that other people signal that they wish to include you in their groups and relationships… Social acceptance occurs on a continuum that ranges from merely tolerating another person’s presence to actively pursuing someone as a relationship partner.” It’s more than a matter of accepting others; it also means others accept us just as we are.
Acceptance does not equal agreement. I may disagree with someone while accepting the person for who she or he is. I have a close friend whose political views differ from mine. When we tackle issues, recognizing that many are volatile, we do so without political rhetoric. We discuss the issue at hand without accusations and finger-pointing. Acceptance doesn’t aim to discount who we are, but rather, to honor everyone as equal, viable, and valuable.
I attended graduate school with a delightful woman who used a wheelchair and who had several obvious physical disabilities. Despite her cheerful disposition, some classmates avoided her or ignored her, which was ironic and unfortunate as the program was designed to prepare us to work with people who have disabilities. Students who engaged with her from the outset served as powerful peer examples of what was possible. They demonstrated curiosity, openness, and compassion, which opened a door through which the rest of the class could venture. The engaged students showed that interacting with her was safe and worthwhile. By the end of the semester, most classmates had grown to accept her intelligence and her contagious, effervescent attitude. The process took time and repeated exposure to her. The overall environment of the class supported the healthy formation of relationships for all students. Interaction and relationships change people’s minds.
Many white people fear that acceptance of minorities threatens what they see as a precarious status quo of privilege and power. That is far from the intention of acceptance. Social acceptance levels the field of opportunity for everyone. Black people and other minorities then have equal chances to reap the benefits that white people take for granted in a thriving society. We become contributing participants in society rather than just consumers. We are no longer bystanders watching a world that profits from us but denies us access to the rewards that come with privilege. Promoting the welfare of minorities promotes the welfare of non-minorities as well. Privilege, by our Constitution, is a right intended for everyone. There are more than enough resources for all.
I do experience acceptance in my life and can attest to its superiority over tolerance.
My writing critique group exhilarates me. Out of the core group of eight, two of us are black. Other members accept us as people and offer us honest, constructive feedback. As one member remarked, “We have no problem tossing you out the window with everyone else.” They receive our critique and feedback to them with respect and thoughtfulness. They let us “toss them out the window.” That’s acceptance.
A few years ago, I joined a group of women who have been friends for several decades. We gather for dinner every Tuesday evening at different restaurants, we have an offshoot retiree group that meets monthly for lunch, and we host events and activities throughout the year. We take care of each other in crises. They fully accept, embrace, and include me, the only black woman in the group. In the wake of the death of my partner in 2016, the group came forth to help me with an outpouring of time, energy, and resources that continues today, the likes of which I have not experienced in the past. We sometimes meet the first Friday of the month for TED Talks. On several occasions, the Talk selected focused on black-white race relations after which we engaged in thoughtful discussion. That they chose to explore the realm of race relations speaks to their attitude of openness and inclusion. That’s acceptance.
My book club, consisting of an almost equal number of black women and white women, meets monthly to discuss books that speak to the issues facing blacks. We formed the club to foster understanding of each other’s experiences and feelings about black-white race relations. Our discussions lead to often-surprising or unrealized beliefs and opinions for the black members as well as the white. That’s acceptance.
Acceptance is a choice at which one arrives through introspection. It is a willingness to look for the possibilities and opportunities. It is a willingness to examine old, familiar beliefs and excuses. It is an opportunity to invite richer perspectives and expand our horizons. It is an opportunity to ask: How can I look at this differently? White people have the responsibility to look at the subtleties and nuances of policies and practices and ask tough questions: (1) Am I exempt from this ruling because I am white?; (2) How does this policy affect black people and other minorities?; (3) If I build a highway or mall through this neighborhood and displace the residents, how will it affect the existing community and how will that affect me?; (4) Are my decisions humane?; (5) How would I feel if I or a loved one were subjected to this?
White people are also hurt and damaged and exploited by other white people through ageism, sexism, and the oppression of power mongering. So, when they see minorities prospering, they are faced with a choice of reacting with a sense of joy for someone else’s progress or outrage. The outraged people forget the many experiences and privileges they take for granted. This filter needs to be exposed.
Because white people hold the bulk of power, authority, and privilege in the United States, they are responsible for the bulk of the solution to racial disparity. Minorities cannot dislodge white privilege, nor do we want to. We, quite simply, want the same opportunities for a life of purpose and productivity. White people must begin with admitting the pain and damage their privilege and power have brought into the lives of non-white citizens. They can look honestly at their environment and the world they have created. They can acknowledge the innumerable privileges they enjoy solely because of the color of their skin and how other people are denied those privileges. They can look at damaging systemic factors such as the construction of roads through minority neighborhoods, the building of exclusive communities, and the allotment of services. Whenever white people receive a privilege because of the color of their skin, people of color receive an injustice. The challenge is to bring the inequities of white privilege to the attention of white people, so they are not blind to it and then, hopefully, have enough empathy to make changes. Transformation begins with white people reaching out to racial minorities with sincerity, honestly and openly admitting the inequities, and offering real solutions.
While the paradigm shift is largely the responsibility of white people, racial minorities also have a challenge. We must continue to tell our stories. We must tell our stories in the news, books, magazines, and on social media. We must continue to speak out about injustices. We must be willing to risk hearing innumerable times that we are overreacting, that times have changed, or that we need to stop whining. Improving race relations is everyone’s job. Building relationships is everyone’s job. Reaching out and listening are everyone’s responsibilities. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, white people are then charged with listening, really hearing what we say without cajoling, discounting, or belittling us. We, in turn, must listen to the sincere questions asked of us as white people work to grasp the complexities of our plight.
We all have a role to play in the furthering of freedom, inclusion, and equality for all people. We can:
- investigate our fears and prejudices.
- ask ourselves if our opinions and beliefs are in line with our values.
- take classes and workshops that aim to help us transform our opinions and beliefs about others.
- read books that address issues of race relations and white privilege.
- approach people different from us with an attitude of curiosity and genuine interest.
We are all challenged to look beyond gender, age, disability, and the people who don’t fit our definition of valuable and viable. Change begins on the ground with honesty, openness, and sharing rippling out from one person to another until a groundswell forces a more erudite and caring approach. We must all keep the conversation going. We must all reach out to each other. We must all be willing to be vulnerable, and receptive. We must all have the courage to seek out people different from us and build relationships. These adventures can be uncomfortable and even frightening. Not everyone will be receptive to our overtures. We build relationships of trust over time. But, the emotional rewards of perseverance and consistent, sincere reaching out have the potential to empower everyone.
In Part 4, the final installation of this series, I offer the opportunity to approach each other with an attitude of awe and celebration.
Billie Wade is a gregarious introvert whose primary interests are writing, lifelong learning, personal development, and how we all are affected by life’s vagaries. Issues facing black people, women, the LGBTQ community, and aging adults are of particular concern to her. She enjoys open-hearted dialogue with diverse people. She is experienced in human resources employee services administration, chemical dependency counseling, and magazine publishing editorial assistant. The opinions expressed here are her own.
Debby Irving. Waking up White: and finding myself in the story of race. Cambridge: Elephant Room Press, 2014. Print.
DeWall, C. Nathan and Brad J. Bushman. “Social Acceptance and Rejection: The Sweet and the Bitter.” Association for Psychological Science. 20.4 (2011): 256-60. Print. PDF Version
Neal, Samantha (2017, August 29), Views of racism as a major problem increase sharply, especially among Democrats. Find at Pew Research.org
Links to Billie Wade’s earlier sections of this series at EIL: