Tolerance Is Not Debatable

tolerance400by John Ellis

Note: I first published this post on my previous blog.

What’s important isn’t that I love beer; what’s important is that I am a beer drinker. Don’t misunderstand; I’m thankful that I love beer – very thankful. But, and to reiterate, I am a beer drinker. I was born that way; I shall die that way. But the fact that I am a beer drinker is why I love beer, not the other way around.

For the last one hundred years or so, scientists have understood that taste is largely genetic. Much of a person’s taste preference is shaped by pore-forming proteins called ion channels. Over the last century, many studies have confirmed that the activity of these channels in regards to regulating the flow of ions on the taste buds is largely genetic. In other words, the fact that I desire beer is coded into my genetic makeup. It’s part of who I am. This is why I find it disturbing that in 2015 my genetic desire to drink beer is still being discriminated against in certain restaurants.

Although I have been the victim of restaurant’s beer drinker discrimination many times, I want to relate two representative anecdotes that speak to the most common ways in which my fellow beer drinkers and I are often marginalized in restaurants.

I’m always searching for excellent hamburgers. In my opinion, it’s hard to beat the pairing of a juicy hamburger and a well-crafted IPA. My search for hamburgers takes me into a variety of restaurants, and it’s rare that I don’t feel affirmed after consuming a juicy beef burger paired with a delicious IPA (or a Pale Ale). A few weeks ago, my family and I walked into Dee’s Family Diner. We had noticed the Dee’s Family Diner marquee that touted “The D.C. Area’s Finest Burger!” I needed no other encouragement.

The genial hostess handed us the menus as we slid into the booth. I knew what I was ordering in the food department, but I needed to see what the restaurant offered in the way of IPA’s or Pale Ales. Well, the menu didn’t have any beers listed. This isn’t unusual; many restaurants, especially the restaurants with a good beer selection, have a separate beer list. So, after our server greeted us, I politely asked to see a beer menu. She smiled, shook her head, and said, “No, hun. This is a family restaurant. We don’t serve beer.”

I was shocked and mortified.

Shocked that in 2015 I was being denied one of the very things that define me, a thing that is part of my identity – I am a beer drinker. I was mortified that my kids had to listen as a bigot stated a definition of “family” that excluded our family. My kids know that I am a beer drinker. They know that beer has a central role in our family because I am a beer drinker. This doesn’t make us less of a family. And no one has the right to tell us that the definition of “family” excludes beer, and by extension, excludes us.

The second experience I want to relate was at a Mediterranean Restaurant. My family and I love pita and hummus; we love baba ghanoush; we love lamb curry. There is a great Mediterranean Restaurant located a block from our apartment complex. But, on this day, we were outside of the Beltway when it was time for dinner. We placed our food order at the counter, and I asked the young lady what beers the restaurant carried. The young lady, who was wearing a hijab, looked surprised and then said, “We don’t sell beer.”

I pushed back a little, politely, I might add. Upon my query about why not, the owner stepped out of the small office and explained to me that as a Muslim, he believed that the drinking of alcohol was a violation of Allah’s commands. I shook my head as I avoided the quizzical gazes of my children. How was I supposed to explain to them that a whole religion and its people believe that we are worth less because we are defined as a family by the virtue of me being a beer drinker? I was ashamed, and I couldn’t bring myself to meet my children’s’ gaze.

Once again, like the Family Diner, I was being denied one of the very things that define me – I am a beer drinker. And, this time, I was being denied because of religion. In that Mediterranean Restaurant, my kids were taught that their dad, simply because he is a beer drinker, is not worthy in the eyes of a religion, that religion’s god, and that religion’s adherents. Look, I’m not saying that the restaurant owner should have to drink beer himself; but, I do believe that it’s not right for him to marginalize me and other beer drinker by refusing to affirm our beer drinkingness in his place of business. The Mediterranean Restaurant beside our apartment complex serves beer. Does that make them less of a Muslim? Of course not. That makes them better Muslims and better citizens of modern society because they are tolerant. Religion is fine, but it becomes problematic for a society when it forces its expectations on others. Don’t keep beer in your private home, that’s fine; but, a place of business cannot discriminate and marginalize beer drinkers by refusing to cater to us.

It’s the 21st century, and I, and other beer drinkers, shouldn’t have to face the shame of not being catered to in restaurants. We shouldn’t have to explain to our children that our family is indeed a family even though beer is part of our family’s identity. We shouldn’t have other’s religious expectations forced on us in places of business. We have a right to our identity, and it’s intolerant to deny us our identity – we are beer drinkers.

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