For anyone who has not encountered this story, an Islamophobic flyer condemning an Arabic sign on a house was sparking outrage in "a New Jersey community." You can read more about the story here.
I am from that New Jersey community.
For 17 years, I have grown up in this community and had a pretty standard upbringing. I was a white female in this predominantly white community. I had friends at school. I engaged in after-school activities. I had a stable home and a pretty ordinary life. It was very easy to dismiss accounts of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and the like because, well, it wasn't happening directly to me or directly in front of my face. Of course, I cared about these issues, but they seemed much less salient in my everyday life.
But you never know when they will become salient in your everyday life.
Up and down all of the blocks in my town, you will find statues of Virgin Mary, statues of Jesus, "God Bless This Home," and different types of blessings for different denominations of Christianity. Only when an Arabic variation of "God Bless This Home" (which roughly translates to "What God has willed. God bless") does outrage ignite in my mostly Christian community.
Having a comfortable living as the dominant demographic in your town really keeps you out of touch with the reality for many people. The reality is that Islamophobia isn't gone. Discrimination isn't gone. Hate isn't gone. It's only when your firm ties with your home town become contested as your town's name is soiled with labels like "Islamophobic" and "hateful" that you recognize the extent of the issue.
Then I learned more about where I grew up, my roots to which I felt so firmly connected, but realized I knew so little about.
For many years, the Jewish population was not allowed to live in my community.
I had Jewish friends in elementary school through high school. It seemed like they were seamlessly integrated into neighborhoods, schools, and activities. But that was not the case several decades ago.
Women still don't technically have the right to vote either.
My mom (and now I) vote in local elections, but the voting is only under the father's name. Women may have gained their suffrage nearly a century ago, but my own area has not kept up with the times. I am all for women's rights but sometimes wondered exactly where we need our rights. It became clear I actually don't have a major right and never even knew.
So maybe it seemed characteristic of my community to discriminate against an Islamic prayer, to call it "un-American" because it is still attached to some archaic and discriminatory beliefs, still unable to grasp the new concept of what it means to be an "American," still living decades or even centuries ago. But only now have I become aware.
Only now do I realize that we still need to become more inclusive and tolerant, as an unincorporated community, as a town, as a state, as a country, and as a world as a whole.
Only now do I see the extent of these issues, the extent of these horrible double standards that still run rampant in our own society and culture, though I have never been fully aware.
Only now do I acknowledge that, sometimes, you don't know the extent of an issue until it happens in your neighborhood.