Intro to A March for Tolerance: Malcolm and his Grandpa are waiting for the bus when they are caught unaware by a group of white supremacists and radical islamists marching for tolerance down Main Street, USA. Writer, Arthur Jay, asks the question, what does it mean to tolerate in today's America, in this satirical work of political fiction.
About the Artist: Eva Liebovitz is an illustrator, poet, animator and designer. Her work can be seen at evaliebovitz.com.
A March for Tolerance
It was 11 AM on a warm day in May. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A short gust of wind kicked up a pamphlet in the road and sent it scattering down the street. Across from the park, an African American man in black jeans and a navy blue sweater was sitting on a bench next to his grandson waiting for the bus. His grandson, Malcolm, was bent at the waist, hunched over, clutching his knees. He was dressed in black shorts and t-shirt, with black sneakers and gray ankle socks. His short braids hung limply over his face. On the opposite side of Grandpa was a poster of a skinny white girl in a black bra and panties advertising underwear. Some troublemaker had scribbled a fake mustache over her pouty face. Nearby a pigeon nibbled on a crumb by a crack in the sidewalk.
Grandpa casually scratched his short grey hair, picking at something with his index finger. Malcolm looked up from his lap and scanned the horizon for the bus, hoping that the familiar blue shape would appear. But there was no bus in sight, just the long, empty expanse of Main Street running over the horizon.
Malcolm sighed dejectedly. But then wait! Something was coming up the street, cresting over a small rise in the distance and coming into view, like a wave growing up out of the sea. Malcolm strained his eyes to make it out. Then he stiffened up, startled. Could it be?
“Grandpa!” he shouted. All the way down Main Street, past the marble columned bank, the red brick bakery and the white steepled church, a group of men in pointy white caps and white robes were coming into focus. They appeared to be gliding down the road over the dark asphalt of Main Street like marshmallow candies approaching on a conveyor belt.
Grandpa turned his head. His eyes lit up as he realized that he was staring at a group of White Supremacists headed their way. “Shhh!” Grandpa whispered. His pupils narrowed. The group was past the bank now and approaching the gas station. They were just a stone’s throw away and they were coming right at them! Grandpa braced himself. He reached for Malcolm to run when the group of Supremacists turned ever so slightly at the intersection and crossed into the park across the street.
Their pointy white hats bobbed away from Malcolm and Grandpa down the park’s promenade. The robed men swung their arms in synch and chanted, “Tolerance for all means tolerance for us! Tolerance for all means tolerance for us!”
Riding above the frothy current, some of the men carried placards with various slogans. KKK For Peace, Tolerance For All, Bigots Deserve Respect; to name a few. All of the signs were printed in thick black marker on white poster board tacked to two-by-fours.
Malcolm tugged on his grandpa’s sleeve. “Gr-gr-grandpa? Is that the K-K-Kay Kay Kay?”
“Shhh,” Grandpa replied. “Don’t make a move. These crackers are up to something.” Suddenly, there was a flash in the corner of Grandpa’s eye. Grandpa looked up the street towards the bank and saw one last Supremacist running, but instead of turning into the park he was headed straight for him. He ran right up to Grandpa!
Grandpa pushed Malcolm against the poster of the underwear model. He hopped between his grandson and the would-be assailant and screamed, “Get back!” He began to wail and swirl his arms, ready to fight. “You won’t take me alive, honky!” he threatened.
The Supremacist stopped short and stepped back. “Excuse me, buddy!” He harrumphed. Grandpa got closer and started slapping at the fellow, who was now defending himself. “Cut it out!” the Supremacist shouted. “Quit slappin me!”
Grandpa jumped back into a defensive pose and whooped like a hyena. The Supremacist crossed his arms and exclaimed. “And that’s why we’re marching. Because of people like you! Now tell me where the park is, grandpa.”
Grandpa had taken off his brown loafer and was holding it in his hand with his arm cocked, ready to throw it. He pointed across the street. “The park’s over there, hillbilly. Now scat! Get out of here!”
The Supremacist mumbled under his breath and took off toward the park. Grandpa looked at Malcolm to make sure he wasn’t hurt. Malcolm was pointing back up the street. “Grandpa, look now!”
Sure enough, a second group of men was marching up the street in white robes, except that these men were wearing red-and-white checkered headscarves. They all had thick black bands wrapped around their foreheads to hold their checkered headpieces in place, and most of them had short dark beards. They were chanting up and down the street, “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar.” At the front of the pack several of them held a wide green banner with two white crescent moons on each side that read, “Radical Radicals for Tolerance”. Someone in the crowd carried a sign that read, “I [heart] Taliban”. They marched riotously up Main Street, and at the intersection they turned into the park, chanting all the way.
Grandpa muttered to himself. “Can it be? Bigots and terrorists on the same day?” He shook his head as if to change the picture, but sure enough, it was really happening. In the KKK’s wake, a group of radical Muslims was walking down Main Street and headed right for the park.
Malcolm had seen enough on television to know that something wasn’t right. “Are we safe here, Grandpa?” he asked innocently. Grandpa wrung his hands and furrowed his brow. “Boy, something fishy is afoot. I don’t know what to tell you, but as long as these jackalopes stay where they are, we’ll just hold tight for the bus.”
Slowly the flow of white robes came to a trickle. The last robed body was running down the park’s cement pathway, holding his hems as he ran so that he wouldn’t trip. His brothers in robes had settled in a mass at the end of the park’s promenade, just before a small white stage with a black cloth draped over it’s raised sides. Lush Maple trees hung over the stage like green umbrellas, standing open against the deep blue sky. The leafy canopy cast a cool shade on the stage and the white robed crowd before it.
On top of the stage a small crew was setting up a brown podium with a microphone, and running cables towards a generator on the ground behind the stage. A fat man, dressed all in black, tapped on the fuzzy microphone. He looked back towards another man in black by the equipment on the ground and gestured. Someone flipped a small switch and a red light came on. The large speakers at the sides of the stage crackled and popped. The man on the stage spoke into the microphone. “Testing. One Two. Testing. One Two.” He looked back and gave a thumbs-up. Then he walked to the side of the stage and down a few steps to Katie, a Caucasian girl in a ruffled yellow dress with white polka dots, and black flats. Katie’s mousy brown hair was pulled back in a frazzled bun. Her loose hairs lit up momentarily like filaments where the mid day sun flickered through the foliage. The techie in black gave her a nod and said, “All good ma’am.”
Katie nodded silently. Then she turned to the Supremacist behind her. He was dressed like all the other Supremacists, covered in white from head to toe with a tall pointy cap, except that unlike his brothers, he wore a prayer scarf embroidered in confederate flags around his shoulders. Only his face was exposed. He had pink cheeks and a button nose.
“All set, Sir,” said Katie remorsefully. “Get on up there.”
“Wish me luck,” he replied with affection in his voice and a twinkle of love in his eyes. Katie couldn’t believe she had gotten herself into this mess.
Several months ago, after procrastinating all semester long, Katie signed up for the last available Spring internship. It was an internship that she needed to graduate from college. She was led to believe that she would be supporting a tolerance initiative, and was eager to make a difference. It took six weeks on the job, making photocopies, watering the plants, and ordering supplies before she realized that she had been duped into volunteering for a local militia and White Supremacist organization. Needing the internship’s three credits to graduate, and already so far along in her final semester, Katie was in no position to pull out when the Grand Wizard himself asked her to help organize a March for Tolerance for her capstone project. Now on the day of the march, after weeks of work pulling permits, arranging a PA, and inviting other groups to the rally, Katie knew deep down in her soft white gut that she had made a critical mistake. “Break a leg, Sir,” Katie replied somewhat hopefully.
The Grand Wizard climbed up the steps to the stage and walked toward the front. He made an impressive sight standing before the crowd. His pointy hat was so tall that from the vantage point of the people in the front row, it seemed to reach all the way to Heaven. The red and blue confederate cloth around his shoulders gave him a Papal appearance.
The Grand Wizard clasped his hands together and shook them exuberantly. His wide cheeks were as round as apples. When he smiled, his parted teeth revealed a plump red tongue. From the back of the crowd, the trunks of the thick brown maples behind him looked like columns out of a Roman amphitheater.
Over at the bus stop, Grandpa was lecturing Malcolm. “Son,” Grandpa said, “I’ll admit it. These are crazy days. Things were bad when I was your age. Segregation. Racism. Jim Crow. But in my day, it was only the bigots that we had to deal with. Today, you got bigots and jihadists. At least the bigots could be reasoned with. They valued their lives as much as we did. These jihadists? No way, no how. They’re no joke. A man who’s willing to blow himself up is not a man you can reason with. No way, no how.”
Back under the shade of the Maples, the Grand Wizard was standing on the stage behind the podium looking out at the crowd before him. It was a sea of white, sprinkled with red and black where the Islamists red checkered headscarves and dark beards interrupted the otherwise solid tapestry of stodgy white.
The Grand Wizard rested his hands on the podium with his fingers wrapped around the edges. He leaned toward the microphone. His tall pointy hat tilted forward precariously.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, but mostly Gentlemen,” he spoke in a soft but rising twang, “We are gathered here today to declare man’s right to tolerance. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and now, by the grace of god, tolerance! Tolerance for everyone! Including us! But especially for us! For the white man.”
The Supremacists in the crowd applauded. The Grand Wizard shuffled his notes. “My friends. These are complicated times for men like us. Everywhere you look, the media is full of secret propaganda and subliminal messaging for diversity and tolerance. Haven’t you ever wondered why there isn’t a single news roundtable or even just one television commercial without at least one woman and a darkie? And why is it that the white man is always the corny one in the commercials? When people talk about tolerance, I ask them, tolerance for who?
“If you ask me,” he continued. “It’s all just a bunch of one-sided hog wash and liberal hypocrisy! They say we should respect differences and tolerate other cultures. But again I ask you, whose? Everyone’s or everyone but the white man’s?
“For example, consider just some, of the so-called cultural differences, that the liberals would have you believe we ought to respect and tolerate.
“Spanish music. Salsa dancing. The smell of curry. Thick accents. Pakistani taxi drivers. Pakistani dry cleaners. Korean dry cleaners. Korean women. Asians. Sassy black women. Black women on TV. Hip-Hop music. The way Mexican’s always call you Gringo when you’re not looking. Turbans. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Pico de Gallo. Tamales. Tofu. Hippies. Jewish bankers. Women who don’t shave their pits. Trannies.”
Over at the bus stop, Grandpa couldn’t believe his ears. He was pacing back and forth by the underwear model as the Grand Wizard aired his grievances.
“Dreadlocks. Vegans. Men with earrings. Ani Di Franco. The City of San Francisco. Craft beer. French cooking. Carrie Bradshaw.”
As grandpa paced, three pigeons warbled by his feet. Their confused coos added to the nonsensical cacophony of the Grand Wizard’s echoing broadside as it burst forth from the speakers across the street.
“Jerk Chicken. Puerto Rican Day Parades. Affirmative action. Italians. Gay marriage. The NBA. Hindus. Falafel. Baba Ganoush. Gays.” And then he said in his southern drawl, “Did I mention accents? You see; all of these things are things that the media tells us we ought to tolerate and respect.”
The Grand Wizard gestured to the crowd. The crowd booed and turned their thumbs down. The Grand Wizard worked toward his punch line. “But if you’re like me, then all of those things drive you crazy, am I right?” The crowd cheered a raucous “yes!”
“The way the media would have you believe it,” the Grand Wizard continued, “everyone’s diversity is supposed to be respected…” and then the he paused and strung out the next two words, “except for,” and then he finished very quickly, “the white man’s.
“But if I may speak for the proud Aryan, fair skinned white man, builder of this great nation and heir primogeniture, our culture won’t tolerate or respect those things, ever! Today’s the day that we make a stand. Our intolerance must be tolerated. Today is the day we remind the world that vanilla is a flavor too!” The Grand Wizard stepped back from the podium and walked to the center of the stage where he clasped his hands together and pumped them above his head.
The crowd cheered and hollered. Over at the bus stop, Malcolm was as confused as can be. Grandpa was worked up, and slapping his knee.
“Boy,” he said as much to himself as to Malcolm, “you gotta be kidding me. This is America. The only thing we shouldn’t tolerate is intolerance. Besides, tolerance doesn’t mean he has to like those things. It just means he has to suck it up if other people do.”
Grandpa shook his head and let out a “hmmph”. The Grand Wizard returned to his notes.
“Now, with great pleasure, I’d like to introduce the day’s first speaker. He has a funny name. Frankly, I find his name somewhat intolerable, but I am assured that he is a good fellow. He is a brother in robes. Give him a big round of applause. The President of the Radical Radical branch of MOOSE-lums for America, Dr. Akbar Ibrahim.”
Behind the stage, Katie winced. She rubbed a fat palm over her agonizing face. The whole thing was her fault, and it was weeks in the making. She had come across this group through an inadvertent Google search. She had typed in “men in robes”, looked at the images, and several clicks later had found a local chapter of the Radical Radical branch of Muslims for America. She invited them to the march and forgot all about it. Then, despite all of her outreach, they were the only other group to join them that morning. Recognizing her mistake, and the Grand Wizard’s initial suspicion, Katie tap danced around his inquiry and assured him that these MOOSE-lums were “like the Elks Club…or something”.
That’s how Dr. Akbar Ibrahim came to share the stage with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. As Dr. Akbar approached the podium, Malcolm caught sight of a familiar blue shape rolling toward them. The bus rolled to a stop at the next corner. A large woman pushed out a stroller and stepped down from the bus’s back door. “Grandpa,” Malcolm said, “the bus is coming.”
Grandpa pulled his dark blue sweater at the chest. It was a habit he had when he was thinking. “No, you know what? Let’s wait for the next bus. You know what they say, you gotta know your enemy.” So when the number 10 bus rolled to a stop in front of them, Grandpa waved the driver on. “There will be another one,” he reassured Malcolm.
Up on the stage, standing behind the wood paneled podium, Dr. Akbar adjusted his notes. He made an imposing presence. His red-checkered headscarf framed his handsome face. His beard was short and black. His chin was square and chiseled. When he smiled, two rows of pearly whites appeared, revealing one conspicuous gold tooth on the upper row. Dr. Akbar put down his notes and adjusted his dark sunglasses.
“Good morning everybody” he said calmly into the microphone. “The Radical Radical chapter of Muslims for America is honored to be here today. Today we are here to say to the American infidel that we are not so different from you. We too hate Spanish music and Asian drivers. We hate women drivers of any kind. Hip-hop music drives us crazy. In fact, all music is forbidden. Haraam!”
Dr. Akbar’s thick accent tickled the Grand Wizard’s ear. There was something funny about this fellow. “MOOSE-lums, huh? Not like any Elks Club I ever seen,” he thought to himself, scratching his bare chin.
Dr. Akbar leaned into the microphone, and said calmly, “And just like you, we, the Radical Radical Muslims for America wish to be tolerated. We say to the American infidel, turn off your stereos and your television sets. Throw away your smut. Discard your idols. Forsake your false gods. Cover your women and fast during Ramadan. Allahu Akbar!”
The jihadists in the crowd cheered and shouted, letting out a chorus of “Allahu Akbar” interspersed with an undulating, hair curling, “AYAYAYAYAYAYA”.
Dr. Akbar stood up very straight and made a serious face. The lines on his face were so square and handsome. He leaned into the microphone and assumed a very serious tone.
“Our colleague, Mr. Grand Wizard is right. It’s all just one big, enormous, Western hypocrisy. They say the burka is offensive, but have you seen the bikini? The woman’s form is forbidden to all but her husband. It is ungodly.
“The American infidel is appalled by beheadings, but cheers on drone strikes. He is outraged when we tear down ancient idols, yet mocks our anger when they make an idol of our prophet. Hypocrisies like these are why the Radical Radical chapter of Muslims for America is here today to demand tolerance. Until that day comes, we, the Radical Radical Muslims for America declare…” Dr. Akbar Ibrahim paused dramatically at this point and then said very loudly, “jihad!”
The Jihadists in the crowd, whipped scimitars out of their robes and waved them in the air as they shouted into the air, “Jihad!”
The Grand Wizard looked skeptically at Katie. Katie caught his eye and began to back away. Over at the bus stop, Grandpa looked incredulously at Malcolm and asked him, “Are you listening to this? This fool isn’t asking for tolerance. He’s asking to be catered to. Just because he can’t handle women in skinny jeans or driving cars, doesn’t mean we all need to change our ways. Besides, the burka ain’t no bikini. No one’s making anyone put on a bikini. If either of these fools thinks I’m going to change my skin color or make your grandma wear a burka, they’ve got another thing coming.”
Malcolm was listening to Grandpa but trying to keep an eye and an ear on the stage at the same time because Dr. Akbar was still shouting “jihad!” over and over to the delight of half the crowd. Confused as can be, the Grand Wizard was stuck in a loop repeating the word “MOOSE-lum” in his head when suddenly a light bulb went off. These guys weren’t like the Elks Club. These guys were Muslims! Islamic-like!
The Grand Wizard secured his pointy hat with one hand and leapt up the steps to the top of the stage. He rushed the podium and wrenched the microphone away from Dr. Akbar. The Doctor turned his head in surprise. The Grand Wizard poked a finger sharply in his chest and addressed him forcefully. “Now wait just one confounded minute. All this time I thought you was a MOOSE-lum, like from the Elk’s Club or something. But you ain’t no MOOSE-lum. You’s a Muslim!”
Dr. Akbar replied quite forcefully, “That’s right, you redneck ninny. What’s your point?”
“You’re one of them radical Islamic terrorists everyone is talking about, now ain’t you!?”
“No sir, I am not and neither are they!” the Doctor replied angrily, pointing out towards the crowd. “We are not radical! In fact, we resent that term. We are radical radicals! Two radicals, not one! Yes we believe in jihad, but not the way these apostates do it today. The way they use Kalashnikovs and roadside bombs, they’re like reformist Jews who eat bacon for breakfast. Yes, jihad should be fought, but it should be fought the way Mohamed would have, on horseback with a scimitar. Now get off the stage so that I may finish my speech!”
At this, the Grand Wizard lost his cool. He attacked the Doctor and they began to wrestle. Their white robes tangled. They clashed heads and locked their hands in combat. The black band that secured the Doctor’s red-checkered headscarf pressed into the base of the Grand Wizard’s pointy white hat. They grimaced and grunted into each other’s face. The Grand Wizard kicked at the Doctor’s legs, trying to trip him. The Doctor fought back with a knee and hit his opponent squarely in the groin. The two tumbled toward the edge of the stage. In the crowd, the Jihadists reached for their scimitars as the Supremacists grabbed the two by fours that held their sloganed poster boards. Tension gripped the crowd as the tangled mass of the Grand Wizard and Dr. Akbar tumbled toward the edge of the stage and then dropped out of sight behind it.
As gravity pulled the weight of the struggling bodies toward the ground, their momentum sent them tumbling toward a pile of equipment behind the stage. Wrapped up in a sea of black cables was a big black disk with a big red button on top about as wide as a basketball. As fate would have it, the Doctor’s rear end rotated into focus as the two of them tumbled, and his robed bottom landed squarely on that big red button.
The Doctor and the Grand Wizard came to a rest as a red light inside the big button set it aglow. From under the stage, heavy gears clanked to life. As the gears slowly spun into action, back behind the trees a large white cross began to rise up over the stage.
Slowly but surely a massive, wooden cross inched vertical, squeaking into place. The crowd lowered their weapons, hypnotized by its size. They were in rapture as the wooden behemoth rose vertically above them. A loud clunk from the gearbox indicated it was secure.
Suddenly a whiff of gasoline rushed from the front of the crowd to the back. With Dr. Akbar still resting on top of him, the Grand Wizard looked up in horror, realizing that the day’s program was now in complete disarray, as the prop for the grand finale was already engaged. He pushed the Doctor off and stood up. He looked frantically around the crowd hoping he could spot Katie’s yellow dress. Katie could fix this! But it was too late and Katie was nowhere to be seen. A tiny spark at the base of the wooden cross ignited it. The cross burst into flame and became instantly bright. The heat singed the eyebrows of those close to it. The fiery warmth could be felt at the back of the crowd and across the street at the bus stop. Towering above the trees, a sixty-foot flaming cross was burning bright and iridescent. In the crowd, the Muslims went wild with delight, hooting, hollering and ululating with ecstasy at the burning symbol of the infidel crusader. Confused by the Radical Radicals’ joy, but equally aroused, the Supremacists began to holler and shout.
As chaos erupted in the park, the blue number 10 bus pulled up at the bus stop. Grandpa took Malcolm by the hand. “Time to get out of here, before stupid turns dangerous.” The two of them stepped into the bus as the doors folded shut behind them. At the back door, Katie squeezed through in the nick of time. She patted down her yellow polka dot dress and breathed a sigh of relief. On that beautiful day in May, with the three of them on board, the number 10 bus pulled away as a sixty-foot cross burned in the park and the pigeons cooed from the bus stop.