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It's the eventual ‘Really’ in the “Where are you from?” question that REALLY gets me

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Yes, I’m addressing the issue too. Hi, I'm Clinton I guess I write blogs now. The first 843 times I was asked “Where are you from?” in New Brunswick it didn't bother me so much. It was that 844th time that it really got to me. You see, not only does the question “Where are you from?” when I’ve known someone for all of 80 seconds fall between the range of being Slightly Irritating to Highly Triggering, it's the fact that oftentimes the question to the answer to the “Where are you from?”, at least for Canadian born Canadians has been rarely sufficient to the person asking.

*When I used to mix it up and mingle at all the business events in town*

Raised up in Toronto, asking people “Where are you from?” was a perfectly normal and accepted practice. In Toronto humans from every culture and Country on the planet are there .. it's a beautiful smorgasbord melting pot mix of intrigue and curiosity with every new face you meet (not to mention the intercultural children spread throughout the city). The difference is, when I’d ask someone where they're from, or when they would ask me - no matter how simple, or complex the answer, almost always, the first answer given - was the accepted answer. Done deal.

Toronto to Moncton

During the first months and years of my experiences here in New Brunswick, I found that was never the case. After being asked “Where are you from?” (still better than being called a Nigger by strangers) with my answer being Canada, or maybe I’d start with Toronto, there started to grow in me the impending knowledge that followup questions were on the way, and I’d sigh, as I’d start to realize that many folks here just couldn’t process the information they were being given. The follow up question would always be “No, but where are your parents from?”, followed by, “OK but where are your Grandparents from, and if I let the ridiculousness play out seeing how far down the ancestry tree I could get on my Mom’s side of the family for fun, we’d eventually get to the “No, but like, come on, where are you realllllllllly from?”.

You see the people out here that would ask me that question - the majority at least - couldn’t be satisfied with the idea that a person of my melanin could simply be … from … “Here”.

*2014 Runners-Up for Greater Moncton Area Young Entrepreneurs of the Year*

Beep. Boop. “Does not Compute”

It did not compute. It did not register. It was baffling and surreal beyond compare. It wasn't until I gave them an answer that would explain the melanin in my skin that they would relinquish their line of questioning, present a look of accomplishment and relief, pull their head back a bit, stand up a bit straighter, tinkle in their eye (like when people of two different languages figures out what the other is trying to say) and pronounce the textbook response, “OooKay, that's where you're really from.” declaration. Really? Really. They were satisfied. Their mystery was solved, their believed understanding of who I was had magically increased, their advantage restored, and they could get back to life, or the convo.

See the real difference and how the problem built up to begin with was just that. The majority of the people asking that question couldn't - accept - the - answer that tied the person in front of them to a simple Canadian background because to them, Canada is white.

Second sigh.

I'll be honest, I used to enjoy answering that question. I used to enjoy telling people about my diverse background, the way my parents met in Jamaica, the way they ended up unintentionally staying in Toronto by “accident” and circumstance (similar to how I ended up in NB), and if I really liked the person I would tell them about the six different countries I'm from if you just go back about five-six generations as far as I understand. But as is often the case, dear white people, sorry, a good amount of y'all ruined it for the rest of y'alls (because POC know white people with culture are usually only asking in the same way everyone in Toronto did).

Now I find it interesting that over the years there has been a large amount of discussion, controversy, propaganda, drama, anger, conflict and media pieces (like this one) regarding those 4 seemingly (but not so innocent) words.. it's become a much lesser “N-word” for white people now, hasn’t it. They’re very cautious about asking it, or bite their tongue in new conversations and bounce on their toes a little bit as they try to keep the question from pouring out of their mouth.

Why it is a problem … for me

I don’t enjoy it anymore. I don’t speak for People of Colour. But, unless I’ve known someone for weeks, or months, and in comes up in regular conversation, or unless (and I hear the moaning, proclamations of the unfairness and reverse racism cries coming from the back) it comes from another Person of Colour, I don’t like it anymore. Like I said, it’s kind of like the “N-words” little brother in 2022. It’s like the Black “head nod” all brothers know to do. The universal sign language for “I see you, out here. I see you, brother. I have an idea of what you’ve been through”. It’s just the rules. We didn’t ask for terms like “the Visible Minorities” to exist, but it’s what we’ve got.