“Where are you really from?”
To the guy I met at a party last weekend
We met on the balcony. We were both holding a drink. We started talking. I told you I was a Political Science French student. We talked a bit about our studies, Paris, where you were from and all that small things you do when you meet someone for the first time.
Minutes passed but I saw something was bothering you. You were staring at me in quite a weird way, wrinkling your eyelids as you were thinking about something else. And yet, you didn’t feel so embarrassed, when you decided to ask me.
“You say you are from Paris, but where are you really from?”
At that moment, I wondered why you were asking me that. Where am I really from? I am almost ready to say: “Ok, I admit I come from a suburb of Paris”. And then I remember: I am “a little darker” as I have already been told in a similar conversation. Yes, my skin is tanned and one can easily notice that I have an ethnic background. But what next came out of your mouth was all the more undermining.
I laughed. Hard. Why are you asking if you think you know? And what popped into my mind was: why do you care so much? We’ve been talking for just a few minutes and all you are interested in, is where I got my brown skin.
I know it’s not racism or discrimination. Luckily, I have never experienced any of these two — and yet everyday I wonder how come. Nonetheless, such questions are awkward.
Lots of — white — people I tell these kinds of stories to, react by saying “It’s nothing, it’s just indelicate but he has the right to know and ask”. I was quite shocked of such reactions, coming from my friends. And I wasn’t able to explain why.
Then I read this article on Mic: “Here’s the Uncomfortable Truth About What Dating Is Like as a Biracial Person”. This article put into words what I couldn’t explain and what I was experiencing. Yet, it was focusing on dating. But I am sorry, it happens ALMOST EVERY TIME, not only when you seek a relationship. — By the way, I am much more likely to like a guy who has not asked me about my skin-colour.
Remarks on my skin-colour have been more and more common for a few months now. It started in Italy when a guy told me “I looked exotic”, then I was told I was “darker”, and then where I was “really” from. These are the three first times I felt uncomfortable about my origins. I mean, when you don’t know the person you are talking to: STOP.
If I want to tell you I will.
I don’t want to sound like I am over-reacting. But the truth is I would not worry if we were not in times of trouble concerning racism in Europe. I fear this is just one of the consequences of some xenophobic discourses we have been hearing over and over.
I recently read this blog post of a British Black student who went on his Erasmus year to Salzburg, Austria. He said he “experienced more racism in three weeks than his whole life in Great Britain”. It’s ambient. People end up thinking they can ask whatever they want, making harmful remarks even if they don’t want to hurt anybody.
Every single anecdote I referred to happened in Europe, and European students asked these awkward questions. I thought we were now beyond ethnic identities. But apparently not; there is still quite a long way to go. And it’s a shame.
Why reducing someone to where “he/she is from”?
My father was born in Madagascar and moved to France with his parents when he was one. My mother’s family was born in France for generations. I don’t speak Malagasy. I only have been to Madagascar twice, and last time I was 10. Maybe “it’s a shame” as you said, but the thing is I feel French more than I feel Malagasy. So if I told you I am from France, deal with it.
Next time, I think I will keep saying that:
“I am from France”
Not to bother anyone or to feel proud, but only because it’s the truth.
Thank you for reminding me who I really am,