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3 years.

(Photo by James Eades on Unsplash)

My brother-in-law got called the N-word yesterday. My sister, Koko, and he were house hunting in a tiny little Oregon town. They were walking out of a cute house in an affluent neighborhood when they heard it.

A couple of Caucasian teenagers yelled from across the street. “N–!”

Mind you, this isn’t some backcountry hamlet. It is a distinct dot on the west coast map, mere miles away from Portland and Eugene. They have highways, big box stores, and even one Indian restaurant.

But he still got called the N-word.

When you take systemic racism against the black community, pepper it with some Anti-Asian rhetoric, and set the mixture down, you get this. Trump’s America may look like calm waters, but dead-eyed sharks lurk under the surface, full of hatred and prejudice.

This will be in their home for the next 3 years. Koko begins her residency in June. My brother-in-law will continue telecommuting while also caring for their toddler and dog.

“Usually racists don’t target doctors — not with violence, at least. The worst they’ll do is refuse treatment from her. Right?”

“What if Minnie barks too much, and someone gets mad? Will they drop by with angry voices, or will they bring their guns along too?”

“The baby is likely to be the only child of color at daycare. What if someone hurts him, in a fit of misplaced anger?”

“Will they get cornered in the parking lot of some local bar?”

“Will he get pulled over for driving while brown?”

“Should they be carrying pepper spray? Maybe a taser?”

These are conversations we’ve had since yesterday, and let me tell you that there were no easy answers that smoothed our brows.

Now, I acknowledge our privilege. The Bay area in California is one of the most diverse places in the United States. We’ve made our home here for close to 20 years, and every day, we walk amongst other BIPOC folk. I have never had to think twice before stepping out in Indian clothes or rubbing the Bindi off my forehead, lest I get hostile glares. We have restaurants representing every delicious corner of the world. And our children go to schools where the Caucasian teachers celebrate Diwali and the Chinese New Year with such loud enthusiasm.

So perhaps the complacency of living a life without fear has rubbed off on us. I am aware of the rampant and often implicit racism our black brethren face. But this (relatively tame) incident offers a peek behind the curtain at the horrors they must endure every day. How they must suffer every time, they step out of the house. Bigots looking down on them, hurting them, killing them. How shameful that racism exists — fearless and proud — in 2021. How fucking shameful!

I honestly hope yesterday’s incident was a blip, an aberration — a terrible memory that will get buried under all the happy ones. The alternative is living 3 more years in a predominantly white town, where literal children don’t shy away from yelling racist slurs.

My brother-in-law and sister will keep their heads low, work without fuss, and try not to draw any unwanted attention. They will check twice before walking down the street, frequent well-lit restaurants, and always step back at the first sign of trouble. It’s a depressing prospect, but they don’t have a choice.

Because the one thing they cannot hide is the color of their skin.

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