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Rating Microaggressions I Get as a South Asian Person

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

May is nationally recognized as Asian and Pacific Island (AAPI) Heritage Month. As a South Asian person, it’s uncommon for the racial issues we face to be talked about so openly. Many people in the AAPI community deal with racism in some capacity all the time. While it’s not always a comment like “go back to your country” or something like that, there are little things that racial minorities face that many times go unnoticed or ignored.

Microaggressions are the passing comments, insults, invalidations, or other behaviors that people encounter daily. They are the kinds of comments that can be easily passed off as well-meaning ignorance, which is why there isn’t much conversation about it. That in and of itself is problematic. I get these kinds of microaggressions all the time. 

“You have a LOT of body hair”

If I had a dollar for every time someone made an unsolicited comment about my body hair, I could probably afford laser hair removal. I am blessed with South Asian genetics – including extremely thick hair on my head. However, that hair extends to the rest of my body as well. I have a lot of body hair, something that used to be a source of great insecurity for me. In school, I’d get comments all the time about how I had a “French man’s mustache” and “Hairy arms like a werewolf.” I’ll never forget in 7th grade when a classmate said to me “Girl, you need to shave your legs” loud enough for the kids at my table to hear. Body hair is one of the things that you should never comment on, just as a form of human decency. While yes, my classmates were also middle schoolers and didn’t know any better, these are the kinds of things that start at home. Children who witness their parents pointing out flaws in other people will in turn do the same to their peers. It’s a systemic issue that I know will take a long time to unlearn.

Body hair should be normalized and ignored because it’s not something even worth commenting on. In 2024, anyone who still comments on body hair needs to check themselves, so I rate this microaggression a 4/10 for its outdatedness.

“Your name is so…unique”

I mostly understand the intentions of this one. When I went by my full name, which is Rishika, I would get all sorts of comments from people I didn’t know. Patrons at the restaurant I used to work at told me how unusual my name was. I had a guy hit on me and ask me for my name. When I told him, he gave me a weird look and then walked away. Every substitute teacher would do a dramatic pause before attempting to say my name and then inevitably butchering it to the amusement of my classmates. It’s not for hatred of my name and culture that I started going by Risa. It was a necessary adaptation, and one I’m glad I made.

I introduce myself to a lot of people every day. I have to give my name every time I order food, or when I’m talking to someone I’ll never speak with again. I’d really not go through the hassle of mispronouncing my own name, and then spelling it out for someone else’s convenience. It would get overwhelming in school when I’d get surrounded by my classmates, asking me how I really say my name, and getting into a competition with each other on who could say it correctly. The answer is that unless you grew up speaking an Asian language, you probably don’t have the ability to correctly pronounce my name. And that’s okay, but the more people treated my name like an exotic animal, the more I wanted it to stop. I don’t mind people using my full name if that is what they know. What I care about is the over-dramatization of just how unique it is in the United States. Trust me, I know. I would much rather my name be treated like any other than the “special” treatment I get all the time when using it.

It’s frustrating to explain to people that if I wanted to be called by a butchered Americanized version of my full name, I wouldn’t have told them to call me something else instead. You aren’t doing me a favor or empowering me – I would rather you just listen to what I actually said. For the frustration this one gives me on a regular basis, I rate this one a 6/10.

“You must be so smart”

This one hurts because of how strongly it’s believed by some people. Asians have always been considered to be the “model minority.” A majority of Asians who come to the US are highly educated and here on work or educational visas. They tend to have above-average household incomes and stay on the “right side of the law.” In my high school, almost every Indian kid I knew was at least a year ahead in math. In fact, it would come as a surprise to a lot of people that I wasn’t. The truth was that I had tried to test out several times and didn’t meet the grade requirement. But admitting I was bad at math or tests, was setting myself up for humiliation amongst the other Asian kids in my grade. I remember a classmate who was called “the dumbest Asian in the grade” because he struggled in school and with tests. If I got anything less than an A, other kids would go around bragging about how they did better than the Indian girl.

It’s hard to confront such a stereotype and force people to explain their biases to you. No one is going to say “We think you’re smart because you’re Asian and you have to be.” People love to make up rumors about the kinds of things that happen to Asian kids who don’t excel. It’s the butt of many jokes and the source of many insecurities for Asian kids who struggle with neurodivergence and learning disabilities.

It’s time people get over their biases and realize that everyone has different educational backgrounds and abilities, so I rate this one a 5/10.

“I had Indian food last night”

I don’t know why this isn’t common sense, but if you had Indian food last night, you don’t need to tell me about it. There are over 1 billion Indians in this world, and the Indian diaspora in the US is huge. There are a lot of Indians and a lot of Indian restaurants. Growing up, I regularly had classmates tell me about their weekend trip to Raja Rani, a local restaurant that was very popular among non-Indians. I never understood why they felt the need to tell me about it. In the nicest way possible, you don’t get a gold star from me for trying ethnic food. And the same goes for any experience you had related to Indians.

It’s great that you got to learn about other cultures, but you don’t need the validation of a person from that culture every single time it happens. Because of how absolutely ridiculous I find this one, I give it an 8/10.

The ABC comedy series “Black-ish” does a great job of discussing the issue of microaggressions in the ninth episode of the fifth season, titled “Wilds of Valley Glen.” In the episode, Bow receives an award for her work, but her accomplishments are undermined by comments a colleague made. I found the episode to be really impactful because that was the first time I learned of a word to describe exactly how I experience being an Indian in the US. I don’t experience the kind of racial discrimination you read about in books and see on the news, but I do deal with these kinds of comments from well-meaning people every day. Bringing attention to it is the first step in learning how to overcome our racial biases and work towards a more equitable tomorrow.

Risa Bhutani is a junior at Michigan State University studying accounting. She is also the events director for Her Campus at Michigan State and enjoys creating core memories for people in the chapter through events. She is a fan of reality TV, true crime, reading, and hiking in her spare time.