The Atlantic published this great piece last week on the age-old question that minorities are often asked, “So, where are you from?” It stemmed from a panel discussion on NPR’s Race Card Project.
I know so many people who get asked this question and the answer is, quite simply, “here.” I don’t find this so hard, mainly because I wasn’t born here. I have another home. However, it is a stark reminder that even though this is also my home, it’s the other one that defines me. So, what about those who were born here? Or those for whom this is the only home they know, or the only one that matters? At that point, the question strips you bare.
“It’s just curiosity!” some protest. But, is it? The article quotes researchers Virginia Mapedzahama and Kwamena Kwansah-Aido, who reflected on this “quintessential question of identity” in a 2010 paper on African identity in Australia:
While acknowledging that a certain ‘curiosity’ sometimes drives the asking of this question, we still question the implications and multiplicity of meanings to those whom it is asked. We contend that being asked the question raises three key issues for us. First, we perceive it as exclusionary, in that in a white dominated society it is asked, mainly of certain groups of people who are visibly different. Second, the assumption behind the question—that one is not ‘from here’, constructs an/other whose identity is fixed and tied only to one faraway place, thereby erasing our hyphenated identities, which define our everyday lived realities. Third, it invokes feelings of ambivalence about place when it is interpreted as demanding a justification of the claim to belonging and being ‘from here’.
Brianna Roger tackled it perfectly in her spoken word poem “Being British”, which she performed at the Open Generation event in April. Video link here – from 01:50.