After a period where many urged us to believe that America had entered a post-racial and otherwise unprejudiced era, the nation is awakening to the continuing immediacy of hatred in our midst. The increase in racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, and misogynistic incidents across the nation over the past 18 months has been alarming.
Despite our intentionality to promote a welcoming and inclusive community (or perhaps because of these efforts), Oak Park is among the communities experiencing these incidents. The incidents here might seem tame compared to physically violent ones in Charlottesville and elsewhere, but they are not trivial. Moreover, they are a reminder that no community is immune to hate.
While we have an abundance of “Hate Has No Home Here” signs proudly standing across our landscape, we have also experienced multiple incidents in which hateful graffiti has marred our community and our neighbors’ communities across the Greater West Side.
Like all hateful acts, these attempts intend to strike fear against specific targets and intimidate all of us in order to weaken our commitment to integration, inclusion, equity, and justice. So long as we remain true to these values at the core of our community’s aspirations, and act intentionally to achieve them, we can overcome hatred inserted into our midst.
Events of the past 18 months make it clearer than ever: The civil rights movement is not over. It is still in motion. But this requires more of us than simply disavowing the hate that is growing more overt. In a community where we frequently applaud ourselves for being on the right side of history in the past, we must also fight in the present to be sure we remain there. Dramatic progress occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, but there is still much more to do. The visible symbols of hate in our community are a reminder that we cannot become complacent.
One way to fight complacency is to interact across races, religions, and identities. This time of year provides us with numerous opportunities to make new connections. As we take part in block parties, festivals, back-to-school events, and squeeze a little more outdoor fun into the last days of summer, we are presented with opportunities to meet new people. Let’s take advantage of this chance to make new connections and let our actions demonstrate what our community aspires to be.
Rob Breymaier is executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.