We all know at least one person with a strong unshakable faith, and they probably have a bible verse in their Instagram bio. We label them as a “bible thumper” but then we have the audacity to turn around and call ourselves “religiously tolerant” and “open minded.” Isn’t that actually really hypocritical of us?

Why is it that, as soon as we see a brown man in a turban, we call them a “Muslim?” (FYI: Muslim men do not wear turbans, Sikh men do.) Why is it that we run and hide as soon as we see a Jehovah’s Witness, because we think they’re going to try and convert us? Why is it that, as soon as we a see a woman in a hijab, we think she’s being oppressed? Why is it that, as soon as we hear the word voodoo, we think about chanting, blood everywhere, and dead animals?

Isn’t this all extremely hypocritical? How can we consider ourselves religiously tolerant in any sort of capacity when we all have probably done at least one of these things?

I am someone who personally practices Santeria, as do the other members of my immediate family. Growing up, this was truly all I ever knew; to me, this was the norm. But as soon as my classmates were actually old enough to understand what it was that I practiced, I began to be discriminated against for my beliefs, which lead to me only having one friend because everyone was afraid of me and they didn’t want to catch my “witch cooties”.

Kids even began telling their parents that they saw me “covered in blood carrying a bag of dead chickens speaking in a weird language.” So, by the time I reached middle school, I felt like I had to hide who I was. I often pretended to be a Catholic because I thought it would make people like me more. But this feeling of being an outcast had long since been forgotten until rapper Azealia Banks began to make headlines for sacrificing chickens (which, in Santeria, is an extremely common ritual to bring good-luck into your life.) This then lead the internet to shame her and mock her own religious beliefs. Albeit broadcasting her sacrifices wasn’t really the smartest idea, but that still didn’t give anybody the right to shame her for what she personally believes to be true.

This specific incident began to bring back many memories of being an outcast and shamed, because even people whom I considered to be my friends were taking to Twitter to mock a religion that has been around longer than they could possibly imagine. But what they didn’t realize is that they weren’t just mocking Azealia Banks, but they were mocking me and millions of other people who practice this same religion. But even though I was extremely hurt and offended by all their comments, my insecurities got the best of me and I stayed quiet in fear of being shamed once more.

Even though I have personally experienced religious intolerance and been shamed for not practicing a “modern” and “mainstream” religion, I still catch myself shaming others for their own beliefs. Which is, in fact extremely hypocritical, because how could I sit here and write a whole article about religious intolerance and act all high and mighty even though I am guilty of the exact same thing?

Which is why I posed the question “are we really religiously tolerant” in the first place.

I soon began to realize that the only way a person can be truly religiously tolerant is if you actually take your time to understand. So next time you see that girl in your English class that everyone calls a Bible thumper, that Muslim woman in a hijab you saw in the supermarket, or even that Sikh gentleman you saw earlier, go up to them and actually talk to them sit down with them ask them why they believe as strongly as they do and what their religion means to them.

There are billions of people on this earth, so to think that people could only practice and believe in one religion is not only limiting but truly ignorant. And the only way for us all to live in harmony is to take the time out our day and to really understand each other and why people believe as strongly as they do.