I didn’t vote for Obama.
He was the first president I was old enough to vote for as a liberal citizen of color, and I couldn’t be bothered to cast a historic ballot for a black president. In fact, I didn’t vote in 2008 at all.
In retrospect, my myriad reasons for not voting constitute a razor-thin defense. I had just turned 21 and voting had lost much of its shine. Then there were all my moves; my absentee ballot could conceivably have been registered at any of my seven residences in three cities over three years. And there stood a wildly good chance that my polling place was nowhere near my new Beverly Hills office, where I was making $13 an hour and needed every penny.
But the real reason I never voted for President Obama was worse than laziness or geography; it was hubris. I assumed that, as a Californian, my state was going blue whether or not I got to the ballot box. There were a lot of things I took for granted in 2008, like the idea that my Indian-American background would always remain unremarkable at worst. I also thought I could distance myself from hate speech by moving in liberal circles. Even in 2016, when the leader of a major political party is essentially a white supremacist, actual racism was a thing that happened to other people.
And then a week ago, my car got egged by anti-Muslim Trump supporters.
I’d left California eight months prior for Austin, Texas, not having given a single thought to the possibility that fitting into a predominantly white and extremely Southern city might not be the smoothest assimilation. It wasn’t until I lived in Texas that I realized it was possible to be someone’s first Indian friend. Or that joining a certain women’s philanthropy organization came with a comped membership to the Texas Young Republicans. Even so, those moments remained largely outweighed by the sheer number of Clinton-Kaine lawn signs scattered throughout the city. And the more farcical Donald Trump’s campaign became, the easier it was to distance myself from those small frissons of unexpected conservatism.
All of which is to say, I was in no way prepared to wake up the day of the final presidential debate to find the remnants of brown eggshells littering the hood of my RAV4, with dirt-streaked yolks smeared across the windshield and side doors spelling out “Trump” and “Muslim go home.” I wasn’t even wearing pants when I’d stepped outside to let the dog pee and stumbled upon my vandalized vehicle. The egg had streaked down the entire front of the car, firmly cemented to the paint as a faintly rancid smell had begun to emanate from the grill. Less than 10 feet from my parking spot, errant pieces of patio furniture off my semi-enclosed balcony had been stolen, as well as a few bags of gardening supplies I’d purchased days prior to build a patio vegetable garden, now that the weather had cooled.
“Damn, homie,” our maintenance man whistled as he walked by. “Somebody really doesn’t like you.”
Oh, this is racism was the the only thought I had for a whole hour before becoming angry, confused, and irrational. Maybe it was the immediacy of the actions that needed to be taken—calling the police, finding a car wash, putting on pants—that numbed me at first. Even as I photographed my previously clean car to document the egg-yolk lettering, it still felt like I was watching someone else’s life play out. This was just another “Texas is weird” data point to be held at arm’s length. I mean, I wasn’t even Muslim.
My outsized fake fear has since been replaced by authentic fear of how I’m perceived in mostly white spaces—even seemingly progressive ones.
It was only at the car wash, when the floor manager and a nearby windshield repair tech began to argue that Hillary Clinton was “just as bad as Trump,” that my indignation kicked in. Regardless of political preference, the Clinton campaign rhetoric hadn’t led to a half-dozen eggs corroding the black paint on my car, or someone reaching over my four-foot fence to steal gardening supplies. No matter how much I tried to chalk up this absurd act of vandalism to a one-off, tallying up the neighbors I’d argued with to pinpoint a perpetrator, it had become clear: The idea that Trump and his most fervent supporters’ speech can live in a vacuum had evaporated.
With a week of distance from the vandalism, it’s not the incendiary rhetoric spilling into even my closely guarded progressive spheres that’s shaken me. Being vandalized, robbed, and the target of hate speech is still surreal enough to compartmentalize. It’s the bureaucratic clusterfuck left in the egging’s wake that continues to chafe.
It’s having to pay $50 to have my locks changed. And spending four hours on a workday researching Texas rent laws to break my lease and move to a zip code that doesn’t boast Austin’s second highest crime rate. It’s calculating how to afford a new security deposit when I just paid $239 to get egg washed off my car, and then driving up and down every street in central and east Austin at 20 miles an hour in the rain trying to spot “For Rent” lawn signs. It’s calling the car wash back to complain about being upsold into that $239 package under rapidly-hardening-egg-related duress, only to later find out I could have chosen from six effective and cheaper options, while simultaneously researching other houses to move to. Negotiating on the house. Not getting the house. Canceling the premature Amazon order of moving boxes. Calculating how to afford all the hours of work lost in just five days.
It’s death by a thousand paper cuts when simple errands and parking your car at night takes six steps more than if you were white.
Until being egged, I took the ease with which I moved through the world for granted. But when you’re staring down the barrel of hours of unnecessary work—simply because someone doesn’t like your skin color or heritage—it’s hard to hold racism at a distance, or deny that living comfortably in America is still not for minorities. Isolating the more heinous acts of racism into singular events is manageable, but it’s death by a thousand paper cuts when simple errands and parking your car at night takes six steps more than if you were white.
My outsized fake fear has since been replaced by authentic fear of how I’m perceived in mostly white spaces—even seemingly progressive ones. I don’t take my flexible schedule for granted, lest a future drama snatch control out of my hands once again. And when early voting opens in Texas this week, I won’t take my vote for president for granted. It may not be enough to ultimately turn Texas purple, but whether racism happens to me or ultimately just to those “other people,” distancing myself from the realities isn’t a privilege.