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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.

The people asking these questions here in New Brunswick have been asking the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. I have a lot of white friends and a lot of white family. I know that they have not spent the majority of their lives being asked where they're from, and I know they’ve gone through life with it simply being assumed they were one of the club, regardless of whether they, or their parents, or grandparents, or great grandparents had migrated from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, South Africa, Germany, or anywhere else.

So now my hesitation and frustration lingers mainly around the stiffening of the back type reaction I can’t avoid. The assumptions I have to make in some sort of mental defence preparation. The knowing that full relaxation time in this conversation is likely over for me, and the feeling that the answering of this question will be for the asker - a safe and secure feeling of understanding of who I am based on a preconstructed, geographical, stereotypical country of origin I’m from (while sure, some of their stereotypes will be true) - while it takes away from me my own sense of safety and belonging in my space, of being verbally made aware once again that to the people around me, 95% of whom never look like me on the outside, that I may not be seen as someone who can simply - belong here - without question, without interrogation, like the rest of them.

So what do we do with this?

Sucks for the non-melanated, cultured people who are truly mystified and intrigued, I hear THOSE cries, and, thankfully, there ARE some ways around this. There’s no perfect way for now, but sometimes change takes time. So, here's some advice for our readers if you really want to know where someone is from …

Number 1) Forget about knowing for now. Stop wanting to know SO bad. Remember for many it can be as personal a question as asking someone for someones health status, or criminal record, whether or not they have parents (some people don’t know where their parents are from) or, I don’t know, I’m out of ideas, but, this, among other things, are not really your business to ask someone that you’ve known for 5 minutes.

Number 2) Again. Stop it. Stop looking at the persons skin. Kind of like we tell men to not stare at breasts. Forget about the skin, for now. Like breasts, MAYBE, you’ll get a chance to stare at them in the future.

Number 3) If you want to know where someone is from, work on becoming their friend instead. Take time to get to know them, chances are they’ll tell you one day, maybe on the third encounter (sticking with the date analogy here).

Number 4) If you're really, really dying to know, talk a whole heap of shit about where you're from and if that person is interested enough in you, and if they want you to know more about them, they will respond in kind with some sort of similar origin story on their own 😉. Otherwise leave it at that and move on.

Number 5) The biggest, biggest piece of information I can give to you regarding if you need to ask someone where they're from is that you need - to - accept - the - very - first - answer - you - are - given every time and then keep the conversation moving. Do this every time you ask and maybe in 10 years time, POC’s will stop being so uptight about it. You’re slowly getting better, New Brunswick, don’t let anyone say I’ve said you’re not.

But if not, maybe next time someone asks “Where are you really from?” after meeting me, I’ll look them straight in the eye and say;

“I’m from slavery, so I will never know where I'm really from. But, if you’re asking because you’ve retrieved through some family heirloom like the virtually non-existent records of which culture and country my father's ancestors were stolen from, PLEASE, share it with me, cause none of us actually f’ing know. Oh, pardon my manners, and yourself? 🤗”

Thanks for reading ✌🏾


Clinton is a entrepreneur with interests in retail, beauty, music, real estate, blockchain, farming, and more. He is also a founder of BlackLantic.

"I migrated to NB in 2009, to my surprise, well ahead of the 2020/21 crowd 😉."

With a strong belief that POC need to support, work together, and collaborate, Clinton has spent years driven by a need to make the world a better place for his kids, and people of all cultures/lifestyles to grow up in.

@ig: clintondavis_ linkedin: Clinton Davis

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