This piece is part of a series exploring the many manifestations of privileges and prejudices at Minerva through student stories. You can read the introduction of the series here or more student stories on race, gender, class, ability, nationality, or religious discrimination.

Sometimes I worry that I’m screaming too loud. That I’m making too much noise.
But I promise, I don’t scream about ghosts. Because it’s not a ghost.  
And it’s not invisible either. It’s just too small to see with the naked eye, 
so we don’t believe it exists, and we don’t think about why it matters. 

It’s a little thing, and that’s why we don’t pay attention. 
So little that it’s more dangerous than the things you can see. 
Because it works without us understanding why, 
and it hurts without us realizing when. 

In the same way that muscle takes a little bit every day to build, 
or how gentle water can carve away a mountain given the time, 
consciously navigating our privilege is a “little thing” 
that takes practice to perfect and time to make habit. 
And the “jokes” or comments that bother us? 

They’re little things too. 
But little things add up. 

Little things I didn’t see. 

I grew up in the suburbs of Texas in a rich, white, “good” school district. I was one of the many Indian Americans who struggled to be white enough for the US and Indian enough for my family. And for a long time, I hated the world for the hand I was dealt. “I wish I could just be white,” I’d joke amongst other Indian Americans. “It would make life so much easier.”

“You’re not like the other Indians, Amulya. You don’t smell bad or act weird,” he said. 

I let those words echo for a moment in my head. 

In a way it felt good to hear those words. 

In today’s world, maybe we’d call that out for being racist and insensitive.

Or maybe we wouldn’t. 

I definitely didn’t. 

Because when I was told that I was “white enough” 

I believed that I finally made it to the cool kids table. 

Because now I wasn’t “one of them”. 

Because this, my friends, 

was a compliment

Back then, I didn’t know much about racism or sexism or any other -isms, really. I was never really taught the words to untangle these interactions. You see, there’s no word to describe the nuances of being “too Indian” in a rich, white, “good” school district. 

No word that describes the way a backward compliment makes you feel. 

“You know that’s not what I meant.” 

A timeless classic. 

An inoculating explanation. 

I still don’t have the words.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these little moments from my childhood recently. Sure, they were offhanded comments, half-baked thoughts wrapped in good intentions, and of course, they fell from the lips of good people. But why does that make these little things okay? Why are we satisfied with explanations in the place of solutions?

They were little things, sure, but it’s been four years and I still remember them. 

Little Things I do see. 

“Hi. Nice to meet you. Where are you from?”

It’s a simple question really. Shouldn’t take much thought to answer. 

“Hey! I’m Amulya. I’m from Texas,” I’d tell them. 

Growing up in Dallas, Texas, I’d never get this question. There were enough Indians who lived there to make it known that some of us literally just came from Texas. People would assume that my parents were immigrants. I guess that’s still an assumption – it just happened to be right. 

“Oh… but where are you really from?”

And honestly, that is the question that always sent me into a spiral. Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s a simple question. What’s the big deal? 

And maybe I would slump back into my turtle shell to whisper back a defeated “my parents are from India. I’m from India?” But if you caught me on the right day, I might scrunch up my eyebrows in frustration and tell you that this question makes me really annoyed. It makes my gut turn in defense, and it makes me squeal on the inside. 

“Where are you really from?”

What does that mean? Are you asking me about my ethnicity? My nationality? I know you’re confused because I said Texas but my skins a bit too tan to pull off the horse-riding cowboy-hat-clad redneck you were picturing, but does “where are you from” suddenly require an explanation for why my existence doesn’t fit your stereotype?

For someone who grew up in a country where my skin was always my first introduction, I promise you. It’s a little thing. But it matters to me. 

“Am I white enough to be considered Texan?”

“Am I cultured enough to be Indian?” 

“Why does my accent betray my skin?”

The casual question makes me instantly feel different. Exotic. Is that a compliment? Being exotic? 

“Where am I from?”

I still don’t have the words. 

I’ll never forget the one conversation that really hit the nail on the coffin on this one. My first month at Minerva. San Francisco. Still making the rounds to learn everyone’s names. “Hi! I’m Amulya.” 

“Oh, Hi Amulya. Nice to meet you. I’m [so and so]. I’m from [some place]. 

Where are you from?”

“I’m from Texas. Born and raised!”

“No, you’re not. You’re from India.”

…oh?

It took me a second to understand what had just happened. 

“What?”

“Your Facebook picture has you in those Indian wedding clothes or something. 

You’re from India, right?”

I don’t remember what I said in response. In my mind, my jaw was hanging open, and my eyes wide. Are they telling me where I’m from? Am I Indian because I look like it? Because I dress like it? How does an Indian dress? How does a Texan behave? Why does it matter??? Nice to meet you too???

I know, I know. You’re overreacting, Amulya. It’s a little thing. That’s not what they meant. But to me, it isn’t little. It’s exhausting to have to define my identity when the question isn’t a question, but an expectation of who I am supposed to be in their mind. 

Tell me, what do you learn about me when you ask me where I am from? My upbringing? My financial status? My culture? Or does it fill in the blanks of my personality with pop culture references and social stereotypes in your mind?

It’s not necessarily wrong to ask the question, and I really don’t blame this person for not knowing. In fact, we laugh about it to this day. But I still remember it. And it’s a little thing that won’t budge in my mind every single time I see this person. It makes me wonder why we shrug off the little things.  Is my discomfort really just a “little thing?” 

Maybe we still don’t have the words. 

I guess it’s a little thing, but it’s a part of almost every introduction I’ve ever made in my life. 

Little Things I want to see. 

As a female born to immigrants and a brown-skinned American living in the racist US 

I checked all the boxes.

I felt like I had a monopoly on complaining. 

I was allowed to be upset at the world. 

And I was. 

I still am. 

But it wasn’t really until I came to Minerva that I could put faces to stories of what real privilege does and doesn’t look like. That I realized the absence of words for these experiences explains why the little things go unnoticed. 

It’s just too small to see with the naked eye, 

so we don’t believe that it exists 

and we don’t think about why it matters. 

“Privilege” and “prejudice” are not games of haves and have nots. I am both privileged in some ways and not in others. 

I’ve never been threatened or harmed because of my skin color, religion, or gender. I’ve never known real hunger. I grew up with access to a computer. I always always always had a roof over my head. I speak English fluently and have a US passport. And I know these are all little things… but, really, they’re not. These are little privileges that make a world of difference when you don’t have them. 

They’re little things, and that’s why we don’t pay attention. 

So little that their absence goes unquestioned

And so their absence is more dangerous 

than the things you can see. 

Because they help without us understanding why, 

and hurt without us realizing when. 

It’s not like I woke up one day and decided to be the person I am today. It’s the accumulation of little instances that seemingly invisibly add up to build out character and values.
It doesn’t take impossible strength to weather stone. It takes gentle patience. 

In the same way that muscle takes a little bit every day to build, 

or how gentle water can carve away a mountain given the time, 

consciously navigating our privilege is a “little thing” 

that takes practice to perfect 

and time to make habit.

I know I alone can’t change the world. I can’t snap my fingers and make all of this mess disappear. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try. Being conscious of my privileges, my mistakes, and my contributions to the hurt in the world? 

That’s a little thing.

But little things add up. 


If you would like to share your story, please contact Aspen Pflughoeft ([email protected]), Amulya Pilla ([email protected]), or Ibukun Aribilola ([email protected]).

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