“But where are you really from”…and other microaggressive racism
Any person of colour in a Western country will tell you that no matter what happens, even if you were born there, and speak the language, have the culture down pat and are 100% OF THAT COUNTRY, you are asked “Where are you from?“, because you are most certainly not from “here”, as in you’re not white.
You can hear this in any country where people are predominantly white – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.S., England… the list goes on.
Even if you look back at them and say “I was born here”, the question gets even more racist as you hear them ask “Oh you were born here, but where are your parents from?”…
If your parents were ALSO born “Here”, you get even more digging:
“No I mean, where are your GRANDparents from?”
The chain of questioning to justify why you are here, and how you came to be here, never ends.
You have to go back generations upon generations until you satisfy their curiosities that you are indeed, “allowed” to be here, and your migration from “Other” has been solved in their minds.
Why does no other person who presents as white, have to justify this?
Why are they not asked to back, tracing their ancestry and lineage of landing in this country to prove that they belong here to casual strangers?
“You don’t belong here”
And there is a definite rationality to this casual racism.
It is to underline, and point out how much you don’t belong here because you don’t look like you do. It is also to solidify their position as belonging here, because THEY are questioning YOU, not the other way around.
They are asking YOU why you are here because they’re asserting that they already belong here, and therefore do not need to justify being here the way that you, a person of colour does.
And the irony of all of this?
All North American dwellers aside from First Nations Peoples, are immigrants.
That is FACT. Everyone can trace back to which country they came from, some generations ago, but every single person who is not of First Nations descent, is an immigrant and therefore “Other”.
So the irony of being asked to prove or justify your existence for not being white, is ridiculous, if white people are not constantly asked by the First Nations where THEY are from.
This is why, these New Zealand videos on Identity and being “Other”, are so powerful to watch for those of you to relate to, but also for others to learn more about how they feel.
This is by no means comprehensive in terms of racial microaggressions, but here are some other justifications, and defensive remarks you may here when you point it out:
“But I really just want to know more about them!”
That may be true, you may have good intentions to know more about their last name origins, their accent, their cultural mannerisms…. but honestly….
They don’t owe you An explanation on anything, especially not who they are and where they are from.
If they want to tell you about their ancestry, their lineage, and where they are from, they will tell you… but you need to give them the choice to CHOOSE to do this, rather than trying to force it out of them with a “Where are you and your parents/grandparents/great-grandparents from?”
You could even go about it in a much nicer manner than “where are you from?”, and say something like: Your name is so beautiful.… and end it there.
If they choose to continue the interaction beyond “Thank you”, they will. They will explain where it is from, who they got it from, what it means in their language, etc.
“I JUST WANT TO COMPLIMENT THEM ON SPEAKING [LANGUAGE] SO WELL”
Another microaggression is to compliment people on speaking the language so well. Even more galling would be if they themselves, are not from that country, learned the language, and THEN ALSO REMARK YOU ON SPEAKING IT WELL.
When you say “Oh but you speak English so perfectly“, you’re pointing out that you did not assume they would… but how would you ever, when meeting a stranger, not assume they would speak the language? Well, they know immediately it’s because of the way they look. They speak English, but they don’t look like a stereotypical English speaker. Right?
It’s subtle, but it’s a microaggression against what langauge you think they should be able to speak perfectly.
CASUALLY ACCEPTED RACISM
There are also stereotypes that people should avoid voicing, even if they think it’s harmless.
For instance, on a conference call “joked” that instead of doing his white-collar job they would move to Vietnam, put on a straw hat, and maybe they would also teach him how to grow rice.
To … blatantly paint an entire country under a stereotype of being rice farmers, points out a few things to me:
- Zero respect for farmers – the literal people who grow our food
- Zero respect for the country itself – they aren’t just rice farmers as a whole; they clearly have an economy that is more than just rice.
The call went into an awkward silence. What and how do you even begin to address this?
I also noticed that when you stereotype Western countries, it isn’t as in condescending of a tone or manner.
Like for instance, joking about moving to Italy to eat hand-rolled pasta and drink wine, is considered a luxurious stereotype or an upgrade to your life. In contrast, joking about wearing a straw hat and farming rice in Vietnam, is a downgrade.
(As a side note: It didn’t even make sense because if he moved there in his current role, to be working in that country instead, he wouldn’t even be farming rice! He’d be in the same white collar job, just in another country.)
I know from my Vietnamese friends that they are STILL portrayed in this manner here, once people find out they’re of Vietnamese descent because of this pervasive stereotype. They could be heart surgeons, or work very high-level jobs and STILL get jokes about how poor their race is as a general stereotype.
Whole countries are seen and portrayed in this manner with a single mental image of what represents them, and that is completely unfair.
Not all of Italy for instance, is perfection; there are plenty of sweatshops there but they’ve crafted an image of being a land of leather, pasta and high quality goods/life as their stereotype. Like this:
Another example would be that whenever anyone mentions Africa, they first of all portray the entire continent as a the country “Africa”, with one single brushstroke (it is a diverse continent with varied countries and cultures, much like Europe), and on top of that, no one shows an image of successful, rich Africans the way Westerners are portrayed. They ignore it completely. They tend to show someone very skinny, and poor, living in a dirt hut of some sort, walking barefoot, etc. Something like this:
Once you see this, and realize what is being fed to you as subtle images to ‘train’ your brain to see certain areas or countries are such, you start to realize how much you’ve formed off these half-truth images and articles fed to you over the years, starting as a child, become what you really think of, as the country, which misses on the rest of what it has to offer because of our narrow-minded assumptions.
As a Canadian, I am slightly offended when people just assume we live in igloos and not in cities. We are not the Inuit, another rich culture, and we get painted with that same stereotype, though less harmful.
But I digress. There are plenty of other microaggressions but just those came to mind off the top of my head.