No Tolerating ‘Tolerance’

The Kinkaid School Debacle.
Here are three of my least favorite phrases:
Political Correctness

[If you have not read the now infamous letter authored by Hugh (“Skip”) McGee III to his children’s Houston prep school, please go HERE for a good summary or HERE for the full text].

Tolerance, diversity and political correctness have become useless words in the very places where their intent is most needed. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Kinkaid School’s pep rally debacle in Houston, Texas. This drama began when Kinkaid’s annual big game week pep rally was canceled because an administrator considered a traditional skit to be offensive and potentially “negative gender stereotyping.” The skit involved football players dressing up and performing as cheerleaders. As a result of the abrupt ending of the skit and the pep rally (curtains closed mid-skit), parents were outraged. Well, at least one was. Hugh E. McGee III has written a letter to Kinkaid School’s Board of Trustees, that may just be the brunt of elitism jokes and pompous-rich-guy banter for years to come. The letter was covered in the  Chron’s Sunday Edition front page article, Prep School Pyrotechnics, and many other places on the Internet.

That this letter got out and went viral online was clearly not the intention of the author. No, this is an insider’s letter, for sure. The message is crystal clear– we people in control need to re-establish our dominance. The funny thing is their dominance ( at least at this particular school) has not ever come close be being lost. Not by a long shot. It has, however, been ever so slightly diminished. And the curse of privilege is that no such diminishment is too small to be felt by what refers to as the “silent majority”. The extreme discomfort and discord are a result of these little chippings away of power and influence. According to McGee, the whole direction of the school has been knocked off course by one too many gay coaches, one too many cross-dressing student body presidents, one too many liberal teachers, one too many administrators who have forgotten by whom their bread is buttered. One too many— Yes, he said it. They have reached their “Tipping Point”.

In a population of folks with this kind of mentality, or rather with this level of entitlement, the word “tolerance” is a perfectly suited title for their school’s efforts to diversify. If you really have decided as a matter of policy that you are going to seek faculty that represent multi-cultural, multi-ethnic backgrounds and you will accept students and families with backgrounds that are different from yours, you are committing to accept them, and to embrace them. You should not be just looking to tolerate them. But when you subscribe to just tolerating folks, your efforts are short-lived because, as it turns out, your tolerance is very low. When you accept and embrace, you broaden your scope of vision to incorporate your new community’s gifts and perspectives. When you just tolerate, all you are doing is forcing your new members to become like you–maintain your status quo — shape up to as close a version of you as they can muster… or ship on out.

The “extreme liberal” thinkers? They can be tolerated longer, especially if they share your race and background, because they can be ignored and ridiculed. They are no threat. The different races? They are a minimal problem, because they come to you wanting to fit in, desiring to assimilate- parent and child alike. All they want is to be like you, you assume. The more they fit in, the less you notice them. The African-American folks are a slightly greater problem. They tend to not blend well, even if just visually. But you can deal with them as long as you keep their numbers below 20%. This is the number beyond which, statistics consistently show, White folks get nervous and “White Flight” begins to take place. Kinkaid is a far cry from reaching that number. Besides African-Americans are useful for the athletics program. (That’s a whole other rant altogether!)

But the Gays. What do we do about them? They are the scariest bunch of all because we aren’t sure what they will do. As such, we don’t want them spreading homosexuality among our innocents– discouraging cheerleading and inflicting their empowerment brain washing. Who knows? They might even be infectious. They must go! Zero-tolerance policy for them.

Tolerance is the wrong idea.

Diversity. I don’t need to talk about the word diversity. Everyone cringes when you say it. White folks hate it. It means unwanted changes and having to walk on eggshells with their behavior and their words. Minorities cringe because they know that their association with this affirmative action type word automatically diminishes them and makes them feel their “otherness” even more profoundly. The use of the word in institutions like Kinkaid and St. John’s Schools just makes the few minorities present angry and disheartened, because efforts have really been shallow, ineffective and misguided. Diversity was once a promising concept that everyone seemed to agree with–that is, that campuses should strive to be diverse because the interaction of different cultures, ideas, perspectives and experiences is optimal to learning and living. We are all better off when we have been exposed to the ways and beliefs and experiences of others. No Brainer, right? Well, right, as long as it doesn’t cost us anything. The Mr. McGees of the world love the idea of diversity, even boast about it at cocktail parties, as long as all it means is that everyone agrees to behave in ways that maintain Mr. McGee’s preferences and entitled position. When the slightest occurrence chips even the tiniest sliver from his exalted pedestal, like the cancellation of a beloved cross-dressing pep rally tradition, his point is irrevocably tipped.

The saddest aspect of Mr. McGee’s perspective is that he is so deep in his own privilege, that he actually is threatened by this perceived chipping away. He is so blind to just how much he really has. Folks like him are so busy viewing diversity as a taking away instead of the life enhancing opportunity that it is.  If the gay community at Kinkaid was comfortable and able to freely express themselves and not feel so vulnerable and under siege, the school could have had a dialog about the silly skit beforehand and cleared the air. If the environment was welcoming instead of tolerating, the pep rally could have happened. That is the very value of having varied viewpoints on campus.

Political Correctness. Good grief–this whole mess is political correctness gone amuck!! The administration’s lack of understanding and clarity; a student’s lack of self-awareness and perhaps maturity; a teacher’s exaggerated need to speak for the under-represented; and parents hell bent on keeping things the same, brings about a hyper-reaction to a tradition. This is the very reason you need a population of people who can offer a spectrum of perspectives and balance to a sadly out of whack environment. The subject of homosexuality is so hands-off, still so taboo, that everyone does this tip-toeing around it. So much so that no one could see clearly enough to know that dressing like cheerleaders is not gay bashing or insulting girls. Its self-spoofing and satire, remember that?…Unless, of course, in their own confusion, the football players in drag made their skit about being gay. In that case, they should have been stopped. But who knows, because everyone on both sides is in reaction mode–each side calling the other hyper-sensitive. And Mr. McGee proposes in the face of this to just get rid of those “others” and get things back to normal. Unbelievable.

I wish we could take these words out of the dialog about who should be present on these independent school campuses. But we won’t take these words out because we use them to cover up some very real realities about private school populations–which is that lots of influential folks do not really want the schools to change. The Mr. McGees of our town have been holding down these exclusive institutions for decades and there is a consensus that they will for many decades to come. Poor Mr. McGee doesn’t know that there are gays and liberals and broken traditions at St. John’s, too (remember the Rebel?)  There are just not too many places to take his kids and his money in a country that is populated more by “others” than by his kind. I get his desperation, though. He is running out of isolationist options. Alas! There’s still homeschooling!

And for all of the “others” at these schools, that minuscule number of us who fit under the tolerance/diversity umbrella, McGee’s letter reminds us painfully that we have traded belonging and acceptance for a far lesser cousin– tolerance. And we are in a precarious place where if we want to stay for the irrefutable benefits of stellar private school education, our interests and comfort had better not come between the “silent majority” and their time honored “traditions.” 

Surely, the communities in these places can come together for meaningful dialog and understanding. Surely, we can get back to the original intentions of words like tolerance and diversity, and why those intentions are good and necessary for everyone. Surely, there is a way to do this rightly–in a way that everyone doesn’t feel cheated and lessened. We are intelligent people. Bringing to mind the historic words of the urban prophet, Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?!?”

Sure enough–sometimes it takes an embarrassing letter to get things started.



  1. Yup, he's all set. Notify the Black Eyed Peas and let's get it started, yeah! I'm dying to see how he integrates into the group. ; )

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