Where Do You Consider Home?
The Racist Question of “Where Are You From?” Is Never As Innocent As You Pretend It Is, So How Do We Get To Know Our Neighbors Without Making Them Feel Unwelcome?
I saw this tweet today and it brought me back to all the times I’ve heard people of colour remind me that it’s not actually okay for white folk — in particular — to ask where someone is from when that person is coloured or otherwise diverse.
I actually like the last line. “Where do you consider home?” Is an interesting question, and it’s one I’d love to hear the answer to from all the people who read this.
I don’t know if you’ll agree with me or not, but whenever asks someone where I’m from, I always feel like I have to qualify both my Blackness and my Canadian citizenship and for reasons you wouldn’t expect maybe, both are really uncomfortable.
First of all, I’ve already never really felt Black enough, and I’ve had plenty of reminders that I’m not English, Irish, Scottish, Jamaican, or Gypsy enough for the people who claim to know me. But on top of that Kanata is not my country, not really.
Sure it’s where I was born, and yes I’ve bled on the soil of this land in at least three different provinces, but that doesn’t make this land my land. It makes me — to my mind — a part of this land, but that’s not the same as knowing that generations of your family were born here.
Fought here, died here, lived here, made babies here. I’m a second-generation Canadian on my mom’s side and a first-generation Canadian on my father’s side.
As the child of several different colonizing nations, it feels very weird to claim Canada as home, but I can’t say that it’s not home either because it’s all I’ve ever known.
I’ve never lived anywhere else, and so it’s difficult for me to honour Indigenous traditions, without also acknowledging that those traditions are literally being rebuilt after generations of actual genocide, by the same government that has granted me citizenship in this country.
I consider Canada home because I have no other choice, but if I could choose it would be America, Somalia, perhaps Sudan or even Paris, there could be one of a million places out there in the world that are just waiting for me and my soul to return to the shores of wherever I’m supposed to be.
But the problem is that many people don’t have the time to think about this. “Where are you from?” Always always always means “prove you deserve to be here,” to those of us who have Brown skin, or even are white presenting but not necessarily “white.”
The person who posted the original screencap said that this was “the worst advice they’d ever seen,” but is it really? I mean I’m not saying it should be the first words out of your mouth when you meet someone new, but the idea of asking someone “where do you feel most at home?” feels a lot more intimate than “where are you from?” which feels more aggressive and insulting than it really should be.
We talk a big game about welcoming people from all over the world into our neighbourhoods but then we don’t want to ask where they are from because that would be rude — and it’s usually only meant as rude by white supremacists.
Asking people where they are from, where they’ve spent their lives, and how what they’ve seen differs from what they are seeing is a great way to get to know someone, but in 2022 it feels so combative because of all the not-so-sudden rise in white supremacy that we’re facing.
It’s really difficult to get to know your neighbours when we’re constantly conditioned to believe that anyone with Brown skin may be dangerous but equally so might anyone with white skin.
We’re so busy fighting each other, that we’re not taking the time to put down the weapons and actually get to know each other. We don't ask questions about why someone is the way they are, we don’t want to because we don’t want to be rude, so we just sit back mostly and watch things get worse, and then by the time we do intervene it’s too late.
Immigration has brought a lot of challenges to the world, but it’s also brought brand new festivals, new art, connection, neighbours from across the globe, love, food, oh my God the food in my hometown, some of it is absolutely ridiculous.
The experiences that I get to have BECAUSE of immigration and because my home province is so diverse is nothing that I would get to receive if I were still living in Calgary, it’s an entirely different kind of population, and so when you ask people in Calgary where they are from you’re most likely to hear Jamaica or Calgary, at least in the circles that my family used to run.
We weren’t exposed to people from Pakistan or India — except for one family at our old school, who left Calgary because of the lack of diversity.
I will always be caught off guard when someone asks where I’m from, but if you’re going to actually ask me where I consider home, then that’s a conversation I’m really interested in having.
This opener allows us to discuss the variously beautiful places around the world, I for instance absolutely wish I was from Hawaii. I love everything about that place, but then again I am speaking as an outsider, not as an Indigenous Hawaii human.
Where are you from? Where do you consider home? If you feel comfortable please let us all know in the comments. I’d love to hear about some of the cool things about wherever you are.
Sending all my love,
Devon J Hall