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blind spots by Fatima A. '25

on privilege

I.

eulogies are beautiful but 

can we talk about leaves before fall?

this time, i’ll make the summer count 

this time, i’ll be louder 

 

today, i feel like a leaf rustling impatiently behind far gone cars

 

it must be that cars run on wind, 

i don’t know any other way

 

i look smaller in all the mirrors 

that make you better 

 

if i had tires, i wouldn’t have to walk with broken feet 

i should’ve been better.


II.

Growing up in a place where I did not have many opportunities to pursue the things I was interested in, I feel very grateful to be at MIT. If there is something you want to do, there is always some way to do it. There are classes of all varieties from bookmaking to glassblowing and psycholinguistics to creative computation. There are clubs for dance and music and theater and math and sports and everything else. Through the Council for the Arts at MIT, you can get free or discounted entry to the MFA,01 the Museum of Fine Arts the ICA,02 the Institute of Contemporary Arts the BSO,03 the Boston Symphony Orchestra the Boston Ballet and many more. The UA04 the Undergraduate Association. it is a student government body that deals with a lot of different aspects of the undergraduate life. helps fund attendance to professional or academic conferences for undergraduate students. There are UROPs05 Undergraduate Research Opportunities in every field and occasional seminars and talks in different departments. 

As a naive first year, this variety of opportunities made me question whether it makes up for the lack of opportunities before. I thought I needed to take advantage of every opportunity available to me, otherwise I would be wasting my time here. I would be wasting the one opportunity that was provided to me.

I saw people from vastly different backgrounds than mine and I saw them excelling at things I struggled deeply with. I felt like I was falling behind. 

There seemed to be only one thing to do: catch up. I needed to bridge the gap that was created by a lifetime of disadvantage and I needed to do it as fast as possible. 06 if that sounds absurd, that is because it is.


III.

it will feel like a race,

it is not.

Throughout my first year at MIT, I felt the compulsive need to catch up. I felt I needed to be like everyone else.

This, in itself, is an odd thing to say given that there is no label that could fit the entire MIT population. Every person has a completely different pre-MIT story and a wildly different MIT experience. 

I guess, what I mean is, when I see other people in classes who have seen some of the content before, on day 1, I already feel behind. Even if that is not the entire class, those few people feel the most prominent. When I work on problem sets with friends who seem to be getting to the solutions while I am still struggling to understand the problem, I feel like I would do anything to change that. to just be better. 

I don’t know how to achieve that or how to get to a point where I know how to approach problems and gain intuition for finding the solutions. Sometimes, I have a vague idea of why the statement is true and how the proof works but it feels infinitely difficult to phrase and connect everything. Other times, I just don’t know.  


IV.

it is never a race.

One of the hardest things to navigate at MIT is how to carve your own MIT experience without thinking about what other people around you are doing. Comparison is bad because everything that matters is in a blind spot and you compare just the shallow reflection of a present. Just because we all ended up at MIT does not mean we are the same and it’s funny how easy it is to overlook a lifetime of differences for a couple months07 or a year now, I guess of being in the same place. 

The other thing is that after talking to a lot of different people all doing different things, I would feel that I needed to be doing all those different things that I heard five different people talk about. Comparison is bad because you end up comparing myself to all the people around you at the same time. 


V.

did you know forever and candles are finite

consider not burning.

It is so deeply exhausting08 and extremely unhealthy to constantly try to catch up. I feel like I am constantly running in a race where I am doomed to lose and it is wearing me down.

It is so unfair to expect to undo your entire life to become someone else. I have realized, if not internalized, that it is impossible to completely level ground with 19 years of privilege09 i am generally good with spellings so i think it is very ironic that i always have to rely on my auto-correct to know how to spell privelege, i mean, privilege. in a year, or four years for that matter. Maybe, that’s the most obvious thing in the world. 


VI.

In Jane Wong’s book “How to not be afraid of everything,” she beautifully talks about her past and how she co-exists with it. In the poem ‘Lessons on Lessening,’ she says:

I was taught that everything and everyone is self-made.

That you can make a window out of anything if you want.

This is why I froze insects. To see if they come back to life.

It feels that the societal expectation is that the insects should come back to life. If they don’t, they were too weak to begin with. It was inherently their fault to not have survived when there are other alive creatures out there. It is hard to believe that the key difference, the fact that some of these creatures were frozen and others were not, shrivels quietly in a blind spot.

There is some unsaid expectation when it comes to members of disadvantaged groups that you have to do something big to be worth anything. You need to be more. If you just exist and try the normal amount, it is not enough. Because you struggle more, you must struggle more. You must be stronger or you were too weak. 


VII.

drive slow,

it is better to get there late than not at all

If I burn myself out in the first couple of years of college, that just means I won’t be able to make use of all the future opportunities that I would’ve been more prepared for if I knew how to calibrate my expectations better. If I ruin my physical and mental health trying to catch up to some made up standard of who I am supposed to be, I will end up apathetic and unmotivated, and I have already started to feel a lot of that. 


VIII.

There are no glass shattering conclusions here. It’s simple, really. You are not responsible for the lack of privilege in your life and you are not responsible for making up for it in any amount of time. You are allowed to exist, trying just the right amount and that would be enough. 

You are allowed to exist.

  1. the Museum of Fine Arts back to text
  2. the Institute of Contemporary Arts back to text
  3. the Boston Symphony Orchestra back to text
  4. the Undergraduate Association. it is a student government body that deals with a lot of different aspects of the undergraduate life. back to text
  5. Undergraduate Research Opportunities back to text
  6. if that sounds absurd, that is because it is. back to text
  7. or a year now, I guess back to text
  8. and extremely unhealthy back to text
  9. i am generally good with spellings so i think it is very ironic that i always have to rely on my auto-correct to know how to spell privelege, i mean, privilege. back to text