Had the AirBnB listing included more details about the neighborhood, we probably would’ve stayed elsewhere.
It was lovely: It was a cabin off of a gravel road in a rural area. Fragrant trees towered over the hot tub surrounded by manicured gardens bursting with blossoms of red, peach, and violet. Chirping crickets lulled us to sleep and the songs of warblers and sparrows heralded the rising sun.
The AirBnB listing didn’t advertise the faded truck driving through the neighborhood, a red, white, and blue flag the size of a queen-size sheet flapping from its bed: “STOP THE BULLSHIT: TRUMP PENCE 2020”.
The AirBnB listing didn’t highlight the hand-painted signs leaning against the campers that faced the highway:
United states back to real
The AirBnB listing didn’t describe the tree farm down the street. The scarecrows guarding the short saplings wore plain white robes adorned with white hoods. Were we reading too much into that?
When we saw the roadside diner, we kept driving because we saw that the first letter of the three words in the name were all K. Maybe locals called it the “Triple K”; maybe it was just meant to be “kute”. Maybe we were reading too much into it.
Nonetheless, we felt like we were in the minority, that we were outnumbered, that we didn’t belong there.
Though we speak impeccable American English, we made a point of greeting people first so they could hear that we were Americans, even if some people don’t think we look like them. We said please and thank you, we smiled and deferred, we were demure. We were model minorities.
Why did we do that? Why did we assume that all people in regions that support Trump would not want us there? Is it fair to assume that all people who support Trump hold racist beliefs? That they believe that we Asians eat dogs, can’t drive, and are socially incapable? Did we think that, if we tried hard enough, we could change their minds?
The AirBnB hosts saw my profile photo when I requested to stay in the lovely cabin. I am obviously Asian. They could have rejected my request, but did not. When we met our hosts—an older white couple, one a military veteran—they were courteous and civil. Even though there was a firearm depot down the road, the hosts had posted signs on their property stating that guns were prohibited. Didn’t these data points reassure us?
And yet: What did they really think of us? Were they simply willing to take our money, even if they thought we didn’t belong here?
Such is the creeping toxicity of racism: You don’t actually know when you should be worried, so you always worry. Even worse for those with darker skin, if you can’t be sure when your life is in danger, then you always feel like your life is in danger.
The toxicity of racism creeps in both directions: Those white individuals who fear that people of color will outnumber, replace, or dominate them also carry this chronic cognitive cargo, even when surrounded only by white people.
Despite climbing mountains bursting with wild flowers, admiring snowy peaks of nearby volcanoes, and appreciating the shade of pine and spruce, we never fully escaped the worry about racism or the worry that we were reading too much into things.