Where are you really from?
Born and raised in Southampton.
Oh cool, but like where are you actually from?
Like I said, born and raised in Southampton.
Nah but like where are you REALLY from?
A real conversation I once had. As a BAME member I have a real issue when a non-BAME member asks me this question. I begin to writhe in my seat and my negative aura detector starts ringing. The question where are you really from has provided me with some of the most uncomfortable consequences I’ve ever had to endure. Clearly the asker sees the glowing melanin in my skin, the ethnic features of my face and the texture of my dark brown hair. They want to know more about my heritage, about my race, about why my skin is the colour it is. But why don’t they just ask this? And of course the perpetual reply to my spiel about my family race is, ‘Oh that’s so cool, I’ve been to India before it’s so magical!’ or ‘I had an Indian friend once’ or ‘Wow, so you’re dad is African? So, you’re half African?’ These are the questions, I, a British Indian man receives more than you’d think. Yes my dad was born in Kenya, no this does not make him African, yes my mum was born in India, no she doesn’t have a thick Indian accent.
The question where are you really from, connotes a severe differentiation between myself and the asker. The idea that I am some enigma you need to decipher. A microaggression such as ‘Where are you really from?’ is not something I expected to receive so much in my first year of University. Merriam Webster defines a microaggression as a ‘comment that often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalised group (such as a racial minority). On the surface, the question ‘Where are you really from?’ may seem innocuous, and some may ask it out of genuine curiosity and not in any malicious way. But for POC like me, it’s a very different experience. Even after the tiresome dialogue of replies I always give, I always feel somewhat deflated and angered by the question. But if I challenge or refuse to answer the question, I have an internal fear that I’m viewed as an angry person. I fully understand that some may ask this question out of pure interest, but why does it have to be worded this way? Why is there a need to emphasise the word ‘really’?
In your first year of uni, you are bound to meet a range of individuals coming from a range of backgrounds. It’s really great and you’re obviously going to be interested in their lives but before you ask any questions, think about what you’re saying and how the receiver may perceive your questions – it’s intimate and it’s personal so it’s vital to remember that some may not be comfortable answering these questions. I feel as though the question ‘Where are you from?’ minus the ‘really’ is an effective way of allowing someone to open up.
“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong” – Muhammad Ali
Some other microaggressions I received in my first year:
- “Bet you spend all night in rnb room” – Granted I do, but why do you think that I do?
- “Bet you have some weird foods” – Punjabi food is my comfort, I was raised on it and cannot love Punjabi food more. So no, they’re not weird…they’re delightful.
- “I assume you’re bilingual?” – Again, why are you assuming? You see me and you assume I can speak another language – granted again I am bilingual but you were unware of this before you made that assumption.
I’m grateful in the sense that I can now handle microaggressions in a satirical manner, but some others may not be able to do this just yet. So before you go asking all your questions, just think. Think about how you may feel if you were asked such a question. Think.
If you are struggling for other examples of microaggressions, this Buzzfeed article might help you: https://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis