Coming back home for the summer after being away at college is quite an interesting experience. You realize not much has changed and almost everything is the way you left it, yet inside, you feel like you have transformed so greatly within such a short time that you sort of stick out like a sore thumb among the rest of your peers. It takes a while to adjust back into the usual swing of things.
At first, coming back home for the summer felt great. I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed being able to drive and knowing my city like the back of my hand. I especially missed the food and not having to depend on the halal section of the South Quad dining hall to fulfill my daily protein intake. However, being away from home for so long and being immersed in a more open-minded, diverse and positive environment made me forget some of the most pressing issues I resented about my hometown in the first place. Among these issues are rampant homophobia, relentless gossiping and judgment, racism and anti-Blackness, slut-shaming and so much more. Though only a 45-minute drive, my college campus feels like a world away from my predominantly Arab-Muslim hometown of Dearborn.
I had forgotten the daily Twitter wars that take place when people begin bashing each other or putting others down for making choices that do not coincide with their own religious beliefs. I had forgotten how some words on a screen could make me feel so unsettled and angry as I witness my LGBT friends being attacked online by people who once smiled to their face in high school. I had forgotten that blood-boiling feeling when a friend or coworker makes a tone-deaf remark and you have to decide quickly whether to listen to the urge in your heart telling you to call them out or the knot in your throat telling you to let it slide. I had forgotten saying something is not always as easy as you think. The suffocating feeling of knowing something is wrong but not knowing what to do about it still resurfaces, though I try my best to keep it at bay and not engage in negativity.
I am not trying to bash my hometown. I love it with all my heart; it is a part of me and a huge chunk of my identity. My family is wonderful and my friends are amazing; I had a good education and the city can really come together and support each other when it needs to. However, it would be incognizant to pretend issues do not exist that have been fostered by generations of ignorance and bathed in hatred. Mental health issues are ridiculed, gay people are ostracized, girls are bullied and “exposed” and people are hurt, day in and day out. I often hear my hometown referred to as a “bubble,” where many people get trapped, refusing to challenge their belief systems and think outside the norms with which they have grown up. On one hand, I understand this is not entirely the fault of a community that was compelled to move into a small city of people of their similar background out of fear of hatred by settling elsewhere. Many people in this city come from families of immigrants, people who have known pain and racism and economic inequality all their lives. This is all they know; this is generations of ideals passed down. However, I do believe it is the personal responsibility of each individual to learn about others, expand their horizons and confront their flawed behaviors. There is no excuse for remaining ignorant. That is a choice.
Growing up in this city, it took me a while to recognize myself as part of the problem and unlearn so much of the negativity that was spewed around me constantly. I, as did many others, took it upon myself to learn from marginalized groups and empathize with struggles and causes outside of my own. As I strive to constantly be learning and growing, I try to challenge the harmful notions around me while still holding true to my faith. I strive to call out injustice where I see it in hopes that we as a collective may take small steps toward a kinder and more understanding community. My community is often the target of hate, but we cannot expect people to come together for us if we cannot come together for them, or even for ourselves.