If my accent doesn’t give it away (which it usually does) since living abroad, people often ask me “Where are you from?” and I obviously answer with “London.” People usually then mention the much loved British accent or ask why I moved from London to Frankfurt.
This is normal, right?
Well yes, I come from London and this is what I tell people.
So you’re probably wondering why I have mentioned it at all…
Because the last 15 months that I have been living abroad is the longest consecutive period of time I can remember throughout which no one has followed the initial question with “No, where are you actually from?” as a second attempt to get the answer they were really after when they wanted to ‘politely’ ask why I am black if I come from London.
Maybe you haven’t experienced this yourself. If not, then good for you. No one has made you feel as though you shouldn’t be able to call the city in which you were born, schooled, explored as a teenager and truly came to appreciate as a young adult, your home. The chances are that you also have international roots, but your skin colour ‘fits in’, so for the person in question, that’s ok.
Perhaps my accent provides enough evidence in itself since being abroad? Or maybe people are just too polite to ask? But too polite to ask what? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know about someone’s cultural background . In fact, I ask people all the time. I genuinely enjoy knowing why people are multilingual or if they have lived in Germany their entire lives. I enjoy hearing the stories about why and how people ended up here and how long they will stay for.
But never would I challenge what someone says by suggesting that they had misunderstood the question, when in fact you have misunderstood what you are asking. Never would I suggest that their words are false because of the colour of their skin. If you want to know about someone’s cultural background, or where someone’s parents and grandparents are from, then you know what, just ask. But don’t suggest that someone’s home isn’t their home because of the colour of their skin.
I don’t owe anyone an explanation for not fitting the criteria they have in their mind.
You know, on mentioning that, I have just remembered that someone did once ask me where I am actually from. This time the accent clearly wasn’t enough so I answered by asking them if they meant to ask where my parents are from, to which they answered yes. It’s annoying and insulting, and I genuinely hope he was aware of this by the tone of my response.
I love living and working in an international city and being surrounded by international people. This is something that I’ll forever encourage as I find it so enriching to grow and develop alongside people from all over the world. But only I can know and feel exactly where home is for me. After all, if you’re asking where I am from i.e. where I grew up or where I call home, then why does it matter what colour my skin is?