Thursday, March 18, 2010

insist on telling people of asian descent about their own asian experiences

This is a guest post by Jennifer, who blogs at Mixed Race America.  Jennifer -- who recently did a series of posts about her travel in the Southern U.S. with "Southern Man" -- describes herself as a "30-something professor of contemporary  American literature and Asian American literature interested in issues  of social justice and specifically how to create spaces to talk  comfortably (and sometimes uncomfortably) about race."

My intent during this road/research trip I'm making around "The South" was to blog about it every night. But I have been pretty tired the last few nights -- long nights driving and then long days of sight seeing and information gathering. So I'm a bit delayed in my narrative, but that's OK -- I don't need to share every single detail on this blog about what I'm doing!

But I did want to share a bit about our time in Sewanee, TN. I went there, or rather that area, to do research at The University of the South in Sewanee, TN -- an old and revered liberal arts college of the south, as its name clearly implies. There really isn't any place to stay in Sewanee itself, so Southern Man and I made our way to a lovely bed and breakfast inn in Cowan, TN, The Franklin-Pearson Hotel, run by Jared Pearson.

When we got to the inn we were tired (over 8 hours in the car), hungry, and a bit cranky. Or maybe this was just me. Jared directed us to a restaurant, High Point, in nearby Monteagle. I wish I brought my camera because the house that the restaurant was in was a beautiful old stone house, apparently financed by money from Al Capone - -he used the house as part of his bootlegging operations! So there are apparently all these hidden entrances and trap doors and false walls -- at least that's what the brochure to the house said.

Now the thing about small towns in the South is that people love to talk to you. For example, Jared, our innkeeper, told us all about the politics of the town-gown divide between the University of the South and the local communities (something quite common in many small town college communities). And our waiter at the restaurant told us all about the history of the restaurant. And while I was doing research in the archives, Southern Man went to a coffee shop where he met local residents and the owner of the cafe, who also shared all sorts of stories with him about Sewanee and the surrounding area. This is part of what it's like to travel in small towns in the South. People like talking to you.

And for the most part, I've grown accustomed to this. My natural demeanor whenever I travel, whether on an airplane or by car, is to put on a polite face, but one that suggests I am not interested in conversation or small chit chat. Because especially when you are on an airplane, you DO NOT want to get trapped next to the woman who is going to talk to you the entire flight across the continental U.S. about her mother issues (this happened to me once) or the guy who is trying to hit on you and who actually keeps bothering you, even when you have your laptop up and your headphones on (again, another true story).

But after living in "The South" for a few years, I've learned that this is part of the culture of many communities here -- and after all, when in Rome.

However, no matter where I am, I'm never comfortable with a conversation that begins with this opening salvo:

"What part of Asia are you from?"

At the end of our dinner (which was quite good--I had scallops and Southern Man had a NY strip and we ended the evening with creme brulee--YUM), when Southern Man went to the restroom, an older gentleman who had been sitting with his wife (she also was not at the table when he broached me) asked me, "What part of Asia are you from?"

Now, I should tell you that the room that we were in was the size of a small dining room and there were only half a dozen tables in it, and during our meal there was only one other occupied table -- the one with this older white couple -- they looked to be in their late 60s. It was clear that they were listening to our conversation, because at a certain point when we talked about what we were going to be doing when we got to Memphis, the woman chimed in and said, "Oh we're from Memphis! It's lovely -- you should go in May!" Southern Man thanked her -- I didn't even make eye contact with her, I mean, we were in the middle of a conversation and the entrees hadn't come yet and I didn't want to open the door for having to talk to this couple all night long (they seemed the type who would invite you to join them at their table and we were both at 4-tops).

Anyway, this OWM (older white male) asks me the question that I dread -- the variant of "Where are you from/what are you" -- because that's really what he wants to know -- he wants to know what I am. Because since he's been eavesdropping on our conversation all night, he would have picked up on the fact that I have no discernible accent, and since I talked about my research and was working out with Southern Man the different components of my class at Southern U., it should have also been clear that I was not a visiting foreign professor.

So I looked at him, unblinkingly, and asked him to repeat the question -- I was really stalling for time because I wasn't sure how I wanted to answer him -- it was late, dinner was over -- we were waiting for the check. He repeated the question -- admitted that he had been listening to our previous conversation (I had been talking about my grandfather and his life in China earlier, as well as the research that a friend of mine is doing in Cambodia around issues of the tribunals for the former Khmer Rouge and the killing fields), and he wanted to know whether I was from Asia.

I think a quick glance at me would tell you that I appear to be Asian and probably Asian American. Again, he didn't want to know about whether I was from Asia -- there was another motivation behind his line of inquiry -- and perhaps, in hindsight, my 6th sense also told me this from non-verbal cues -- his absolute confidence in how he posed the question -- his assumption that it was OK to talk to me and ask me this question.

So I told him that I was from California and that I consider myself to be Californian. He then moved on to asking me where my parents are from -- he wasn't phased by me putting him off. And I said that my mother was from Jamaica -- which was actually the wrong tactical move to make because I kid you not, his eyes LIT UP and he leaned in towards me and squinted and said,

"I never would have guessed by looking at you!"

At this point his wife had rejoined him, and I realized my error in trying to throw him off -- that it was only going to reinforce his exoticization of me and my family, so I said,

"No, you wouldn't probably because she's Chinese Jamaican."

At this point I was hoping he would drop it and leave me alone -- I was not smiling and clearly not enjoying out tete-a-tete. But that's the thing about white privilege -- it means that those actively employing it -- and I would put this OWM in that category -- don't care about what YOU want -- he only cared about what HE wanted to get out of the conversation.

And what he wanted to demonstrate to me, and perhaps to remind his wife was that he had traveled all over Asia, including Cambodia -- yes, he had heard us talking about Cambodia, he said -- and then he proceeded to list ALL OF THE ASIAN COUNTRIES that he had been to and that he had been to Cambodia DURING THE WAR WHEN HE WAS IN THE MARINES.


This was now THE WORST because not only was I accosted by an OWM, but it turns out that he's a Veteran of the war in Viet Nam and he wants to regale me with bombing stories of Cambodia and to tell me about all the Asian countries he went back to visit over the war (he said that specifically -- that he went back to Asia after the war to see what had happened to it after he left).

Now, I am not trying to diss veterans. I'm sure this man has his share of PTSD stories and that there is a genuine interest that he has in Asia since he has a connection to it that is unique.

However, I don't need to be part of his therapy and I certainly didn't want to hear his stories or to be the conduit for launching into what he was doing in Asia, during and then years after the war.

Luckily Southern Man came back and we quickly left the restaurant. And Southern Man asked me why I didn't turn the tables and ask him and his wife where they were from -- but the truth is, these people wouldn't have gotten the sarcasm -- I would have had to have been really direct and said, "why aren't you asking my white partner where he is from -- why are you focusing on where I'm from?" and as confrontational and direct as I can be, I really just wanted a nice dinner out after a long day of driving and didn't feel like having to deal with having to educate the older white couple about their white privilege.

But it does give me some food for thought and it does make me wonder next time I'm asked this question and it starts to head into the territory of "look at all the Asian countries I've been to!" whether I won't flip the conversation around to the real motivation behind why I'm being asked this question, or whether I won't just simply speak my truth and tell my interlocutor that s/he is making me feel like an orientalized object and I don't want to continue talking with them anymore because I'm not feeling comfortable with their line of questioning.

Which brings up an interesting question for all of us: when we are faced with this kind of weird racial crap, why don't we get more aggressive?


  1. Thanks for the post, Jennifer. I've never been able to fully verbalize why I find this question inappropriate, but after reading your post I would have to say that the privilege the other person is exhibiting is definitely a factor. I'm wondering how you, and anyone else, combats the issues when the other person feels like they are just 'being nice' and are 'genuinely curious' about everyone. I have a couple of friends who tell me that they ask the same kind of question to all of their friends (though I don't fully believe that's true).

  2. We don't argue because we have been so conditioned to be polite. I have to stop myself from reinforcing that norm to my kids. Polite and respectful to family doesn't mean we have to be polite to rude strangers asking where we are from. White Mom to 5 kids with varing shades of skin.

  3. Yeah, it can be uncomfortable, but I don't see this from the same way as you do.

    I LIKE it when people ask me questions about my background. If it means educating them and teaching them that not all Muslims are terrorists, then I am happy to answer their questions about Islam or Muslims.

    I am also happy to explain my Indian heritage to white people (or anyone else, really) if they are honestly curious and want to ask me questions. I am proud to be Indian and I love to talk about my roots.

    I'm not offended when people ask me where I'm "really" from or when they're like "oh I've always wanted to visit India" or whatever.

  4. Thank you for sharing this story and verbalizing why this "friendly" line of questioning is so wrong.
    I'm reminded of something that Renee from Womanist Musings said once, about being asked, "Where are you from?", giving the answer, Canada, and then being asked, "No, where are you REALLY from?"
    It's a textbook example of how North American is still presumed to equal white, and people of colour are actively othered and denied the identity of their choice.

  5. Oh, ugh. The kind of person that does this is convinced they're being just the nicest, and it really doesn't occur to them how rude they're being - to the point that even if you politely called it out for the racist shit it is, you'd get called names and glared at for the rest of the evening. You lose either way, but being passive at least saves you from the really hostile racism (not that unconscious racism makes your evening hunk-dory).

    Being aggressive (or, more accurately, straightforward and honest) isn't allowed, because it's a sign of social power, and [sarcasm] you're not allowed that. [/sarcasm]

    You are intended by him to sit there and smile approvingly while he tells you all about himself, thereby allowing him to say later "I'm so good with these people, see? They like that I know so much about their country!". It's this ugly mix of racism and desire for approval from the very person they're othering.

    Thus, they get "special snowflake" status. It's crass and rude, not to mention the whole rudeness of listening in on your conversation.

  6. island girl in a land w/o seaMarch 18, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    thank you for the post.

    i lived in the south for 7 years and am married a southern man. i've also wanted to turn the tables and ask nice white southern people just exactly what are they asking me when they are asking me where i am from. it's difficult in the south, though, because of the manners thing. some of my partner's clueless but very nice relatives think that they're just "getting to know me" by asking where i'm from. we've been married for almost 15 years and they still forget where i'm from! for example, when the tsunami hit banda aceh, they asked about my relatives. i said that my people were fine, as they were 3000 km away in MANILA.

    other white southerners, however, weren't so nice or had some other issues flavoring their interactions with me. this is true of older vets and some active duty servicemen.

    the south is home to some of the largest military bases in the US, and while living in NC, i had plenty of interactions with vets who wanted to tell me all about some woman they knew at clark AFB or subic bay or wherever. if i had a dollar for every time i heard, "you look JUST LIKE like a woman i met in olongapo" i could have paid my student loans many times over.

    i struggled with how to deal with these comments. on one hand, i knew that the men *usually* meant to pay me a compliment, clumsy and thoughtless as it may have been. on the other hand, such comments made me very apprehensive: i thought to myself, where is this conversation going? do they think i'm a bar girl? is this man going to try some stupid shit when i get up to leave?

    an aside: i don't think that some white people understand how insulting it might be to be misidentified. i'm not talking about being mistaken for chinese or indonesian or vietnamese -- although i do lose my patience with some white people who seem to want to prove something by insisting on guessing where i'm from. rather, i'm talking about dealing with someone who knows that i'm pinay, but treats all the different groups in the philippines as if they were interchangeable, as if the sense of pride and meaning we ascribe to being from ilocos, marinduque or zamboanga were totally irrelevant. my people aren't from olongapo, and i really don't look like a someone from southern luzon island. it may seem like splitting hairs, yet i would expect that a person from wales would soon be quite annoyed with me if i continued to speak as if the welsh were just like the brits. and certainly many southerners i know would be quite insulted if i said that all americans were like yankees.

  7. DIMA,

    I think you brought up a good point in that what's so hard is that some people really don't mind/like talking about themselves where others don't, and since people have a tendency to lump all minorities together, meeting someone like you will just reinforce their assumption that all minorities "like" to be asked those kinds of questions (obviously not your fault).

    This post reminds me of last night, when my boyfriend said that people have asked him whether any of his ancestors (we both noted that they never say "relatives") died in the Holocaust. I was all WTF? Tacky doesn't even describe that in my book, and I wouldn't ask him that question (me being someone he obviously knows/is close to/has a significant relationship with; why the hell would some stranger think that was an appropriate line of conversation?

    Sometimes I like talking about "Black" stuff; sometimes I don't (usually when I feel the person is fulfilling some kind of exotic curiosity, like s/he's measuring me against all the BET s/he's watched). When I don't, my response deals with the inappropriateness of the question, ala, "Well, what do all White people think about X?". If I do, I realize that even though I give the "I am not all Black people" disclaimer, lots of people will probably think of me/my experiences that way.

  8. why don't we get more aggressive?

    because then we are just seen as the over emotional over sensitive exotic other.

  9. lol, i don't know how many times i've been asked 'where i'm from/where was i born' since i was a kid. and when i said canada, toronto to be exact, they would say, 'no, where are you really from?' or 'your parents?'

    sometimes i play their game (not to total strangers, they get the gas face if they persist) knowing the 'aha! i knew it' that will come. the game goes like this...i tell them my mother is from nova scotia, i may even state she's from one of the oldest families there but then i give them what they father is from jamaica... "oh, so you're jamaican, great beaches/ganja/tours/music/insert whatever.

    in my experience this country, canada, and the majority of white folks i've interacted in my life have tried to make me feel less canadian. we're perpetual foreigners (black, asian, latin@, etc while the first nations are invisible)and our history and contributions in this place is never even touched upon to any real degree, besides a footnote, if at all. so it's no surprise that many non-white 1st, 2nd, 10th gen canadian-born folks that i know have been asked this 'question' in the same manner and after awhile some will, and do, reject being considered canadian, i know i did for a while when i was grade school, but i came back to my senses and said eff 'em

    i also know that tense feeling when approached by random white folks who try to strike up a conversation, especially when i don't look that sociable and i'm not giving a vibe to anybody that states i want to be approached (and apparently i look dangerous...dangerously sexy i hope, lol). it's really a relief if there's no racefail/ethnicfail and therefore no decision on how to deal with it, regardless if it's clueless, ignorant or a deliberate attempt to offend/challenge.

  10. I know I've commented previously on Jennifer's post, but I wanted to chime in here to second what @rubyval and @attack_laurel have said about politeness, passivity, and power. @thelady also makes a point about how the tone of our reaction colours (pun not intended!) the reception of our speech - to get aggressive is to be dismissed as overly-emotional (hysterical) and pigeonholed into the Angry POC stereotype.

    Within the context of this discussion, I think we can then also safely add that a common white tendency is to be unaware of the extent to which they are protected from the potentially painful honesty of the responses of people of colour. I read something the other day - will update with the link when/if I find it - about how politeness/niceness coming from a person with privilege is a reflection of that privilege, in that they aren't required to maintain that civility in order to be perceived in a positive light; conversely, politeness/niceness coming from a person without privilege to a person with privilege is often a duty or a chore, simply part of navigating the world in which we're all too aware of the unintended consequences of perceived hostility or aggression on our part.

    One of the things I like about this blog, actually, is that the other commenters here tend to be pretty blunt - there isn't a lot of emotional caretaking going on if, say, someone comes in and makes an Arab Trader Argument. And while my style of discourse may sometimes wince a little at the roughness of handling, as a person of colour I do appreciate being able to just call shit for what it is, without feeling like certain niceties must be observed in order to maintain this fiction of civility and/or pander to the education of the ignorant.

  11. My hubby and I are white while my daughter is Mongolian. People see us with our daughter and in their heads do the adoption+Asian=Chinese equation. Then they start the "my friend/coworker adopted from China" thing. When I inform them she is Mongolian they 1) ask if that's part of China or 2) ask if it's a country (like I'm making it up). Usually I can bore them with a bit of Mongolian history to get them to leave before the "so how much did it cost you to get her" question gets asked.

  12. @Vail

    It sounds like you're in danger of commoditizing her as well. And large parts of Mongolia ARE in China.

  13. I was guilty of this white tendency a few years back long befor I had ever heard of white privilege.I would even add that I made it worse by trying to guess the country the person came from rather then asking where they were from.It came to an abrupt end on an airplane once when I told the girl sitting next me to she must be Korean.She told me she was Chinese and that I was a complete ass hole and could I please move to another seat....

  14. I see both sides of this. Certainly and without a doubt, I hate to be asked out-of-the blue where I'm "from". IT'S A STUPID QUESTION! Just what the hell does "from" even mean?

    Where was I born?
    Where have I lived most my life?
    What is my nationality?
    What culture am I attached to?
    Is this about my Parents? Where they were born, or how they identify?

    It's a horrible question which I think should never, ever be asked because no one really knows what it MEANS. (Especially someone like me for whom each of those questions is completely different, even for either parent).

    Sometimes I give my name- an Arab name, and people's sense of natural curiosity is aroused sometimes. It's not one you run into every day and if you don't watch the news, you can't be sure where it's from (it's not anything like Muhammad or Ahmed). So I choose to interpret that curiosity as "Where is your name from?" Which isn't a ridiculous question. I've asked white people with slightly odd names if the name was Italian, Russian, Polish, etc. But, I always ask if the name was any of those things, not the person. So when someone asks where I'm "from" in this context(an inexact question), I offer an inexact answer: "My name is Arabic." (actually it's not because it's descended from Hebrew, but the statement is technically true)

    On the other hand, if I'm talking to someone and I started raising questions by mentioning things like "Well I went to visit my parents overseas and my father is very traditional..." Then I don't mind the question of "from" as much. It's still inexact and probematic, but I understand the underlying question a lot better, "Where do your parents live and what tradition are you talking about?"

    If you just met me, I don't like to be asked, because it indicates to me that nothing I say is important until you know how to evaluate what I say in the context of "what I am". I don't want my testimony "colored" (if I may turn a phrase) by my ethnic background. I want it to be recieved nuetrally.

    Get to know me and you'll find out "what" I am in due time. It will come up. If you have no interest in getting to know me- it's not important, is it?

    That's my position on the matter: That you don't have the absolute right to interrogate me and obtain what amounts to a family history because I appear different and you're "just curious".

    On the military note. I don't have a problem with people in the military in general. I know a bunch of nice people who have served (though some are a little too accustomed to the term "Hajji" than I would prefer. One guy I know let it slip on accident but tried to cut himself short.) Specific people who have served have gotten on my nerves however. My brother in particular had some bad experiences with a virulent racist who all but threatened to shoot him. He literally said, "I know what Arabs are like, I was in Iraq for two years!" My brother was aghast, he is an Arab, speaks the language and lived in Arab countries for more than a decade. He said so too. He also said horrendous things about black people, claimed white people "built this country" and was generally a contemptible racist ass.

    Before Bush the Lesser (I don't like his father but he was a lot smarter) became president and started doing stupid things with our military I was considering a career in it. I still marvel sometimes at how my life turned out so differently from what I intended and expected because of one president who I couldn't have voted for or against (too young).

    As an aside (and this is from common sense rather than experience): Don't ask someone out during a flight. Ask the person out after you've landed and they can escape.

  15. @Mike

    "She told me she was Chinese and that I was a complete ass hole and could I please move to another seat...."

    Dman I wish I had guts like that.

  16. If asked "where are you from?" simply say "Uranus".

    A stupid question demands a stupid answer.

  17. I can't be the only one who feels physically scared to get more aggressive about this, right?

    I mean seriously: I'm short, I'm painfully out of shape, and I can't run all that fast, so I always sit there and just take the line of questioning about my ethnicity. I commented in an earlier post that I tend to get caught in the same dyadic spiral with white men who try to guess "where I'm from" time and time again...and frankly, I don't want to put myself in physical danger by breaking out of the conversation and being more aggressive, which is why I endured 45 minutes of a conversation with a white man last Saturday while heading home on the Metro North from Westchester. I sat quietly, not once speaking back, while he regaled me with his tales of derring do in South Korea. When he asked me what part of Korea I was from as we finally pulled into Grand Central, I politely informed him that I am, in fact, not Korean. Without missing a beat, he then slipped me his contact info and asked me to email him. Awesome.

    But there it is: I was passively allowing him to do this to me and to do this to other Asian women. I honestly don't know how to get more aggressive without feeling a degree of physical fear.

  18. @Sean how am I "in danger of commoditizing her as well"?

    As for there being people of Mongolian decent in China, I am aware of that, but my daughter is from the nation of Mongolia. Is it wrong of me to correct people in front of my daughter who assume she is from somewhere else?

  19. @steps: No, I don't think you're alone in that fear. I myself am a relatively small woman and for the next two months I'm pregnant too - not exactly someone who's gonna take anyone anywhere in a fight if it comes to blows. I tend not to get that line of questioning in public spaces because the demographics of my residential area are such that there are other people of colour everywhere, and most folks know better than to ask those kinds of leading questions of perfect strangers. But you can bet that if I were traveling in my hometown (Whitebread Midwestern Suburb) and got accosted by someone larger than me who felt entitled enough to demand my attention and response - I'd be polite, and demure, and scared as hell. It's never come to blows but the threat of violence is always there. Thank you for being willing to share that.

  20. @saraspeaking re:"I read something the other day . . . about how politeness/niceness coming from a person with privilege is a reflection of that privilege, in that they aren't required to maintain that civility in order to be perceived in a positive light. . ."

    I like this distinction. The way I understand white privilege is that it is only given; it isn't "wielded" or felt because the holder is generally unaware of it (or in denial about it if they've ever heard the term). What we see white people doing is often a reflection of white privilege, in other words, and not the privilege itself.

    What gives the white people in the "what are you" scenarios the chutzpah to approach PoC is a sense or feeling of entitlement, which in terms of white supremacy comes from being in a position of privilege and which they certainly feel, but which they generally don't connect with being white.

    Maybe such people (and maybe those who have shared their history of being in that position can verify or invalidate this) think they're just curious or even just being polite by engaging in some kind of interaction, never thinking that they don't do the same with white strangers unless they detect an accent or that nobody seems to ask THEM where THEY are from. But as Mike testifies, maybe an abrupt response can start them up the road of greater awareness.

  21. @ steps

    It is actually pretty rare for me to assert myself in these sort of situations. I don't get "where are you from" questions cause I'm black but I do get other rude comments. I actually think privileged types deliberately pick people who are shorter and/or female to impose on as we are "less threatening" and more approachable then some big dude.

  22. I think this is a good example of a phenomenon that's often interpreted differently by different PoC. Some, like DIMA, may not find it offensive, depending on the context, while others may believe that it's always a mark of privilege and ignorance to "other" PoC by making inquiries about their heritage, even if the WP might believe they're being genuinely polite. And it can be very awkward to get "more aggressive" about something like this, especially in a situation like this, where you're talking to an older couple. We've been conditioned to simply accept that older people are generally more racist (whether or not that's true), and to forgive them for this because they "grew up in a different time".

    I'm a little split on this one. Just so you know, I am white. I would never question a PoC I had just met about their ethnicity, but I'm just wondering at what point in a relationship such a conversation becomes appropriate? Would it be best to wait until such information is offered voluntarily?

    I'd be interested to hear your opinions, because I do have a genuine interest in the family history and culture of my PoC friends, especially those who are recent immigrants (expats?). However, I don't want to be impolite, or make someone feel burdened into educating me about their culture. Is there a respectful way to have such a conversation, or is it something better left alone?

  23. @Vail

    I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult you or your daughter.

    Your first post felt to me like a bit of a 'special snowflake' message. In this case I think it's for the WP to back off and listen to what's being said by others. Although your daughter is certainly likely to have to deal with this, so listen closely!

  24. @Sean, I think your comment about Mongolia was rather inappropriate. Not being Mongolian I can't speak on this myself, but I can't imagine many people would be happy having their country conquered and divided in half by two superpowers. The implication that "maybe she really is from part of China" is likely to sting for many people...

  25. I think what kills me the most when the asker does not pick up on their own ridiculousness even after things are dragged out.
    "Where are you from?"
    "(insert my hometown)"
    "Oh, really? Have you lived here all your life?"
    "Yes" (Half truth; I was born in Korea, but have lived the vast majority of my life in the States) I cross my fingers and hope that that will stop them from asking...
    "Ooooh, but where are you from from?"
    "Well really I grew up in a suburb of (insert my hometown)"
    "No, I mean...are you from China, Japan?" (they always leave out Korea)
    "...oh. I'm Korean."
    Then they usually look really relieved that they've finally got an answer. Sometimes they try to justify their inquiries by saying they have an Asian spouse, child, friend, or they really like Asian food.
    Thankfully I haven't had an encounter like that for a long time.
    If I ever get asked again (and this person clearly just wants to 'figure me out') I'm going to answer with: "Sorry, I don't speak English" and walk off. Maybe it's dumb to plan something like that, but I don't want any more time wasted to stupid conversations like the one above.

  26. My best friend in this world is white and he is truly a man that does not see color..Well last night we were at our local watering hole, having a good time together...when these 2 white guys walked in ahd stood next to us. They spoke to us in french and I answered in french...The look one of them gave us was undenialbly hostile.

    My friend and I went on with our conversation and had planned to go for dinner after finishing our drinks,when the hostile one came over and demanded to know where I was from! My stock answer is always "I am here"
    It went over his head and because he was from South Africa he then went on to try to justify South Africa and it's racial issues to me! I saw the pain and the anger in his eyes his need to try and understand what had happened to his life..

    At this point my friend picked up his bag to go to dinner as I said to the South African " Your devils are yours and yours alone, I am not the person to give you absolution" But what I will remember for a long time is the pure hatred in that mans eyes and the fact he thought he had a right to speak to me as he did,( I was the only poc in the room)and if I was alone he would have thought nothing of hurting me...because his world had changed..

    My point is when asked the question "where are you from?"
    I always answer " I am here"
    Some get the message, some don't.

  27. I am a Maori from New Zealand. Maori people always want to know where other Maori are from, they always ask 'where are you from?'When they ask this they don't want to know where you live or where you were born, they want to know who your family are, what tribe and sub-tribe you are from. They are seeking to make connections, to create links to your tribe and to your family. It's one of the first things we ask each other.
    When I travelled in South East Asia, the people from those countries always asked me where I was from. I looked like them but they suspected that I wasn't one of them, so they would just ask 'where are you from?' and because I'm so used to being asked that question (without any negative connotations), I didn't mind at all and told them.
    I work in a tourist area and come across numerous people who don't speak with New Zealand accents and I usually ask them where they're from. I think in future I might only ask that question of white people. I had no idea that people of colour are so offended by the question.

  28. I'm a white guy from a small town, although not in the South. The culture is similar in a lot of ways though.

    Putting myself in OWM's shoes for a moment, I can kind of see where he's coming from. He probably hasn't seen more than a handful of people of Asian descent since his time in the war, so there's a natural curiosity there. Maybe he comes to that particular dining establishment often and he's used to striking up conversations with the patrons. And as you said, people in small towns love talking to you. From his perspective, he was just trying to be polite, take an interest in you and "your culture" (or what he perceived to be 'your culture' anyway), and try to find something he had in common with you. A lot of war veterans love to tell stories. This one saw a person of Asian descent, which was probably a rarity in that region of the country, and used that as an excuse to launch into a story he'd probably been dying to tell anyone who would listen.

    I can't say that I've experienced the exact same thing, because I haven't, but I've been in similar situations. For example, I have a Jewish-sounding name, and my dad's side of the family is Jewish, but my dad hasn't been a practicing Jew since he was a teenager, and I've been to a synagogue maybe three times in my life. When people hear my name, they make all kinds of assumptions about me that aren't true. They ask me if I keep kosher, they talk about Chanukah, they tell me all about their Jewish friends from college, etc. When I reply "Oh, I'm actually not Jewish," I need to give them an explanation.

    Other times, I tell somebody "I'm from Pennsylvania" and they regale me with tales of that trip they took to Philadelphia five years ago, not caring that I'm from rural Pennsylvania and can't stand Philly.

    There was also the time I traveled to Germany with some friends, and when we told people we were from America, we were surprised at how mono-cultural they believed America to be. Many Germans we met thought that all Americans wore cowboy hats, listened to country music, and drank cheap beer.

    The point is, I don't think this phenomenon is unique to white people (on the giving end) or those of Asian descent (on the receiving end). I think, on some level, we all use other people's cultures as an excuse to talk about ourselves. When you meet a guy named Patrick Fitzgerald and say "Oh man, I got SO DRUNK last St. Patrick's Day," you're doing the same thing.

  29. @Xander, making the conversation about oneself ("It happens to us white people too.") is one of the classic things white people do, which we should work to avoid.

    This article/thread is about the issues of privilege whereby many white people feel entitled to demand an answer from PoC, including things ranging from making the PoC look hostile, oversensitive, etc. if they don't answer to the implicit threat of violence if the PoC turns the situation around and calls out the white person on their white behavior.

    Surely there are white-on-white cases of "Where are you from?" where privilege imbalances exist (class, sexual orientation, gender, physical body size/strength, etc.) but that's a topic for another blog. While all privilege imbalances and oppressions are problematic, they are not equivalent, interchangeable, or experienced in the same way. Implying that they are is often disempowering, and in itself problematic.

  30. white boy wrote,

    The point is, I don't think this phenomenon is unique to white people (on the giving end) or those of Asian descent (on the receiving end). I think, on some level, we all use other people's cultures as an excuse to talk about ourselves.

    Please read what riche just wrote. Please read this too. And then notice, please, that your telling us that "we all use other people's cultures as an excuse to talk about ourselves" was an enactment of a common, derailing, and at best annoying white tendency.

    This is a blog about "stuff white people do," and this blog recognizes that they do things within a de facto white supremacist context, and that this context empowers them over non-white people in terms of race. You should try harder to keep that context in sight, as well that power that you (so far) unwittingly wield as a "white boy."

  31. @Rach,

    As I get to know someone, the information about my background is volunteered pretty quickly. All of my friends and people I've interacted with regularly know my ethnicity without having ever to ask, "where are you from?" I should point out that information they usually try to find out first are things like my name, what I do, how I spend my time, etc. You know, questions that suggest they are actually interested in getting to know me as a person. What baffles me and angers me most of the time in these encounters is that I'm exactly an exoticized object for these folks. They ask for my ethnicity before they've even found out my name. They are often complete strangers who only ever ask these questions when I'm alone. It seems like only when I'm in a position that's more vulnerable do they feel like they can ask the question. Almost like their strategy is "I will corner her to find out." It's no wonder that like saraspeaking and steps, I too have indulged these people in these situations. I'm not brave enough to be so aggressive either.

    I've never asked anybody where they're from. I've never been curious enough. With friends, that information is volunteered anyway as it's an indication of intimacy when sharing personal information. I've never felt a need to ask my office mate about his ethnicity though I'm pretty sure he's Indian from his travels to visit family there, but I've never felt a need to know for sure. I guess what I'm trying to say is I don't know or understand why it matters. If you're genuinely interested in me as a person, why does it matter what I look like. For me personally, my ethnicity shapes a large part of my identity and so its information that's readily shared, but if it happens to not shape my identity, then why does it matter so much to someone else? Even if they're a war veteran looking for someone to tell their stories too, why does it matter to them where I'm from? Do they think I would listen more intently because I look asian? To me, it screams privilege that they, a white person, thinks that I, an Asian person, should care about what they did while in Asia. Guess what, I don't care.

  32. What an excellent post. Thank you for sharing, Jennifer.

    I, like another white person that posted in comments, have been guilty of this in the past. I will keep this post in mind and will do my best to articulate the feelings to my white friends. Because, I know I will encounter a situation like this in the future.

  33. @ Xander

    "I'm sorry if I gave you that impression..." Usually means you're not sorry at all.

  34. @X and A Cole-Faber re: "I just wanted to add that this question can be annoying even if you are a white person with an utterly boring-sounding name."

    Well, there's annoying and there's cornering. There's annoying and there's intimidating. There's annoying and there's keeping you in your place. I'd take annoying any day.

    I'm also a white male, and I have an unusual surname, but when I've been asked about where I'm from, it's always because the other person thinks that he or she detects an accent in my speech. But still it's rare, and still, it's not when I'm vulnerable and it's not "I bet I can guess what you are" as if I were some kind of parlor game.

    To me, other white people asking about my origins is very different from the scenario under discussion. So if I felt compelled to bring it up, "just to add" to this discussion, which is about stuff white people do to people of color, I'd have to question my motives. And if I did post it anyway, and if someone accused me of derailing, I'd try to understand that person's point instead of telling them that they'd misunderstood me. Maybe they can see something that I can't.

    re: "I was just musing on how that question is annoying in other ways as well."

    Xander, your words are here on the thread. You said that it's annoying even for white people, too, not that it's annoying in some other way. You're just digging yourself into a rhetorical hole. Look, I've been called out on this blog, too. So have many other white people who still read and contribute. That's the way this blog rolls. Live and learn.

  35. Thanks for sharing the story, Jennifer. I haven't read all the comments, but I just wanted to share some of my own experiences here.

    I am a woc and I also get asked the "where are you from" question a lot. Of course, when I answer "from here" or "from _____ (name of state)" the follow-up question generally is "where are your parents from" or "where are you originally from." At this point, I generally give in and say that I am from ______ (name of country of birth). The next comment, almost inevitably is "Oh, but your English is so good. You have no accent!"

    I cannot even count the number of times I have been told how good my English is and how I have no accent. I always find this comment irritating because it signals to why the person asking these questions desired to know where I am from to begin with: they look at me, see brown skin, assume I am "not from here," then hear me speak and get confused. Then they discover that I "really am not from here" and their confusion heightens.

    I haven't figured out what a good response to all this is, although once I just asked the man asking me the "where are you from" question to "guess." He let off a string of nationalities and ethnicities and I just denied each of them and told him to keep "guessing." I am not sure if that's a good tactic, but by doing this I was able to hold him off until I could find a way to get away from him and also avoided answering his question. Another time when I was accosted by a woman while I was shopping, I just ignored her and walked away (although as I realized almost immediately after, that probably fed into her stereotype of "Angry POC.")

  36. Thank you for this, Jennifer. Too many times I've been asked where I was from and had people guess what ethnicity I am. What annoys me are all the things they're implying. Simply put, Asians are not looked at as real Americans. We have always been viewed as perpetual foreigners. It doesn't matter if we're naturalized citizens, if we were born here, or if our family's been here for more than four generations--people look at us and "American" never registers in their minds.

    "Where are you from?" "Where are you really from?" "Wow, your English is so good!" "Can you say something in your language to me?" "Are you a foreign exchange student?" It's so infuriating! I can't believe people don't understand why I get offended when they bombard me with questions that suggests all Asians are immigrants or foreigners.

    Glad to see some posters admit that they've done this in the past. Hopefully more people wise up.

  37. Wow, and this whole time I never knew I was a white supremacist... Thanks for enlightening me, I guess.

    This entire comment thread is full of people talking about their own experiences, but when I do it, it's "derailing" and "racist" and "annoying"... because I'm white?

  38. I do think that with white people there are gradations of "where are you from". Sometimes it is an educational opportunity especially if you are a fairly new immigrant, etc. With certain regions, it's an attempt to place you among something or someone familiar. And sometimes people are simply curious. But sometimes however, to POC, it seems like an attempt to suggest that you aren't "American" and that rankles POC who consider themselves American. I am black and do not identify at all with "African-American", I find it an odd term. I can trace my lineage pre-Civil War, so to me I am American, I don't need a qualifier (I realize my minority position on this). And that's what irritates me and some other POC.

    There is also an implication that you are somehow exceptional to your "race" because clearly, you aren't like the "others". Maybe it's because as the OWM eavesdropped he didn't perceive her as being what he perceives as a stereotypical Asian or one from the country he thought she was from, or believed that she was a first or second generation immigrant. And that's another problem. This strange pretense that ignores that many POCs were born here, this is the home and the culture we know and though some of us may have immediate relatives from other countries, we ourselves are American. And that is what's so insulting.

    I have had the very same conversation though to me I am a fairly average medium toned black woman. Where are you from? NYC. Where are your parents from? NYC. Where are your grandparents from? South Carolina. And you begin to feel like NO answer is going to make them happy until you admit to something that is NOT AMERICAN. In smaller cities, I am regarded as black, in larger cities, I'm often mistaken for black/latina. Not every POC is a recent immigrant, and many of us are fifth and sixth generation Americans. It's like what I imagine zoo aminals feel like. Oh look! There's one! It's walking upright! Let's go talk to it! It's a GREAT ADVENTURE! You'd be annoyed too if you dealt with this constantly and people thinking it is perfectly okay to intrude in your space to assuage their inner racist by bothering you.

    And WTH is with the eavesdropping? I thought this only happened to me, my mom and my daughter when we go out. We practically have people sitting in our laps, unabashedly eavesdropping and then striking up conversations with us.

  39. @RVCBard

    Please elucidate.

  40. I had no idea that people of colour are so offended by the question.

    For me, it's not the question itself that offends. It's the fact that the person asking usually doesn't really care to know the real story. They just want an explanation to why you look the way you do. So then they get to box you up with all their stereotypes, and tell you Asian stories.

    But if they genuinely want to know, then I don't mind.

    Speaking of which, I moved to a new office recently and I've met 8 of my new office mates. Only the two foreigners out of the 8 asked me where I'm from. That was their first question after we exchanged names. I was happy to answer because I felt that it came from a place of, "Hey, you don't look Aussie, I'm not Aussie either. We got something in common." But I also noticed that none (if I remember correctly) of the white Aussies asked me where I'm from. I find this interesting and am wondering if they're hesitant to ask lest I get offended.

  41. @white boy


    i can't do a long response to your second posting right now. i. just. can't.

    however, your comment makes clear that you think that your experiences/experiences that white people have in the world when they interact with other whites have exactly the same meanings/potential/effect/etc. as do interactions between whites people and people of color.

    surprise! it's NOT the same, because of history, because of present-day racism, and because of white privilege.

    i would suggest you start reading here:

    and also spend some time reading all of the great resources Macon has compiled in his comment guidelines section, before you comment again

  42. Hi everyone--this is Jennifer, the guest poster. I've just read through all the comments and wish I had the time (or that blogger would allow me the space) to respond to everyone, but I just wanted to say thank you for engaging with my post so deeply--esp. for those of you who felt a real connection with the heart of what I was trying to convey: the frustration of being targeted with unsolicited, invasive, and aggressive questions.

    I think something that I want to really reinforce is that what was particularly troubling to me about this interaction with OWM was that I did not ask for it. I wasn't in a situation where it would be natural for 2 strangers to chit chat. I know that I said that in "the South" people like to talk, but even when faced with talking to strangers, there is usually an explicable context: the grocery store check-out clerk, the postal carrier in my neighborhood (who actually isn't a stranger but has become a friend--the nice side of Southern living), even sitting next to someone on an airplane. There is a natural tendancy to strike up a conversation and for some, to carry that further. When I was giving blood a few years ago, a white nurse asked me what my nationality was. I'm not sure if it was because she was sticking a needle in my arm or I could detect a different tone in her voice, but I didn't give her the run-around (I hate the nationality question because it presumes I'm not a U.S. citizen/Asians are foreign stereotype) and I just simply said "I'm Chinese American," and she just beamed at me and told me her granddaughter was from China and we had a very nice conversation about what the adoption process was like for her son and daughter-in-law and about resources for her granddaughter (this was in a very white part of central MA) in terms of books and films to learn about what it means to be Chinese American. I walked away from that conversation glad that I had not reacted hostilely and glad that we had such a nice exchange--a real conversation.

    But OWM? He didn't want to engage me--he wanted to talk AT me. He wanted to make it all about HIM. And in that way, it felt very much like a power issue--very much about his privilege (white and male) to ignore my visible non-verbal signs of DO NOT TALK TO ME and push on with HIS agenda of what HE wanted to tell ME.

    And that? That pisses me off.

  43. several years back, an experience i had as a cashier at a pharmacy:

    white male customer: are you thai?
    me: no. why.
    white male customer: oh because my wife is thai and you look like her.
    me: [honestly, can't remember what i said but i do remember not masking my irritation--very passive, i know. i was just disgusted, embarrassed, and horrified that a fellow asian woman was married to such a creep.]

    that wasn't the first nor the last time. creepy, ignorant folks everywhere!


    another experience during my cashiering days, a dirty homeless man wandered into the store, possibly also mentally unstable and looked straight out of the hippy 60s, pigtails almost down to his belly button:

    dirty man: are you married?
    me: i don't have to answer that.
    dirty man: [incoherent mumbling, getting visibly angrier by the second, as a line of customers forms behind him]
    me: can you please move aside so i can help these other customers
    dirty man: you know what?! you need to get laid!!
    [at this point i called the manager up to the front who had the balls (middle-aged woman with a limp) to yell at him to get out of the store]


    can't say the second experience necessarily had to do with my being asian, but i sure did feel violated.

  44. Sean - While in general it would be appropriate for WP to back off and listen, when the WP is the parent of a PoC, it is essential to *stand up* and *speak.* It is only by modeling for our children, whether we are white parents or parents of color, that we can teach our children how to respond to the white privilege exerted upon them in the grocery store, the library, the school, the playground, the ice cream shop, everywhere we go...

    I think Vail's point was that her child is too young to decide for herself when/whether it is safe or productive to engage, or what to say, so Vail is making the decision and modeling for her as part of her commitment to raising a strong, resilient daughter who will someday make these choices for herself.

    And in terms of "commoditicizing" ~ unfortunately, the reality is that another part of white privilege is that many white folks feel entitled to ask (literally) "how much did s/he cost?" if your child doesn't match you. Or variations thereof ("is her father black?" "are they sisters?" etc.), in front of the child.

    And, as many of the commenters have noted, the adoptive parent must decide how to respond in terms of information/privacy, politeness/rudeness, compliance/self-assertiveness, tight smile/"fuck off" ~ with the additional aspect of knowing your child is watching *intently.* Any white parent of a child of color worth their salt spends a lot of time learning, practicing, trying this out, making mistakes, trying again, and again.

    I really liked D W Jazzlover's practice of responding with "I am here." There are plenty of times when sharing more is appropriate later on, but starting with the present seems like a good way to defuse the folks who think they just have the right to know.

  45. One of my old teachers was guilty of this as soon as he discovered that I am African (Nigerian) he began to tell me all his stories about him living in Kenya and South Africa and Botswana. He was boasting about it actually "Oh when we lived in Kenya we blahblahblah. Black people there are blahblahblah" good thing I can tune people out, now I'm working on how to sleep with my eyes open LOL.

  46. @whiteboy

    I thought the question about being aggressive was great. Depending on the situation, since as you know it can be dangerous (as others have commented on) to be aggressive, I like to play the aggressive part every now and then just to scare the willies into wf (white folk) when possible. For me, it's a matter of asians being seen as passive and generally "nice" ppl that others can walk all over. To be more specific, my aggressive responses are usually directed at wfs that ask me that question, because it is definitely coming from a different place when they ask that question. There's no need to elaborate on that here, but if you ever find yourself in a position where it is safe for you to do so, I think you should sass it up and smash it back in their face.

    It's one thing when people are truly interested in your background as a person as opposed to when they are just looking to prove a point that they know you ain't from here and they know it. Even if they don't... You could their ears off and nothing'd ever come of it...

  47. [white boy, I'm not going to publish that comment because you're being rudely obstinate. If you read this, you might understand why I say that. ~macon]

  48. white privilege is the assumption that they can take whatever liberty they please to indulge their curiosity about you however rude or unseemly...Once you've been branded "the Other" any subject is fair game...white people presume to know you better than you know are a physical object to be touched (black folk with locks experience this on the regular) without your permission...but when you call them on their stupidity, they act if there's something wrong with you...

  49. @Andrea Thank you! Yes my daughter is only 6 and we've already had problems with her kindergarten teacher telling her in class one day that she was Chinese (even though we had told the teacher many times she was Mongolian). She came home very upset and we had to pull out her adoption pictures and the atlas to show her that Mongolia was really a country and that she was from there. So when people assume she is Chinese we are very firm in correcting them.

  50. I can really relate to this post, as I've experienced the same thing on numerous occasions. Especially because I grew up in a white neighborhood, and only had white friends till high school.
    When I was younger, (older) white people would ask me over and over if I've gotten used to the cold in winter (my parents are from Suriname, I was born in Holland), applaud me for my good Dutch vocabulary or make mean comments on my hair, the most baffling ones coming from adults. One time when my teacher lit up a sigaret in class (this was 1997, I was in the fifth grade)I said he couldn'do that as we were kids who shouldn't be exposed to the smoke. He got mad and called me a 'fish wife with stupid, ugly hair.' I'm not kidding...guess I should be glad this didn't happen to me:

    In the first two cases, I never got mad or expressed my frustration. Still, these kind of questions bug me because I always consider other people's feelings before verbalizing any of my thoughts. Why can't other people do the same thing?

  51. but you know what, i say hi to people i dont know either. i just think its being polite.

  52. I realize that this response is coming a couple weeks after this post was made and might not be read by anyone but I have to ask: is the problem in this situation with the fact that the old man asked 'where are you from?' opposed to 'what ethnicity are you?' or is it with the fact that he'd be solely interested in ethnicity at all or is it just that the question was asked simply as an excuse to talk about himself?

    In all three situations I'm still not convinced that the guy did something horrible in asking the question. Is there a problem with an individual's curiosity regarding someone's ethnicity? Impolite, sure, but racist? I don't think so. I see it as almost equivalent to someone asking 'what color are your eyes?' And common, the guy was old. Old people like talking about things that they've done. I don't think that him being white had anything to do with that (and besides, would you expect someone upon receiving an answer to their question to just say 'oh, that's interesting'?).

  53. @Clay,

    I take offense at these questions and yes, I DO think it's racist when obviously the first thing they see and identify and exoticize about me is the color of my skin. Often in these situations they haven't even bothered to ask me my name! They are clearly NOT interested in me as a person, but as an exotic foreign object. Moreover, why aren't white Americans ever approached with the same question as a conversation starter? Instead, they are seen as an individual, asked their name, what they do, etc. Nobody starts a conversation with "what color are your eyes?" with white Americans.

  54. I'm a white person and I've gotten this question before. But unlike "white boy", it's not because of my name, or a hometown connection, or any other BS. It's because to some people, I read as mixed-raced or exotic or whatever other racist thought a white person is having.

    I know exactly what people mean by "where are you from" and it doesn't matter that I'm actually white - what matters is that I have been perceived as an outsider and have been called out for it. I've been labeled exotic, different, a curiosity.

    It's fucked up. Especially when there's a level of sexism attached - when it's a dude clearly trying to hit on me and figure out what sort of weird brown person I am that he can add to his fuck-list.

    Please don't read this as me going "I know what it's like to be a POC!" I'm just sharing to make the point that the asker of "where are you from?" has certain ideas about race, culture, ethnicity and sometimes gender, and that, because those ideas have been put on me, I've experienced it as well.

    @Clay why do people need to know what race other people are? Are they taking the fucking census?

  55. I keep getting error readings when commenting, but I wanted to attempt to offer a more clear reason for my earlier remark with the hope that it will show that my apology was indeed sincere.

    I do find the question of where one is from to be frustrating and difficult. So knowing that, to be asked that question simply based on my appearance would be even more obnoxious. And then to have to suffer through a person's (probably guilt-ridden) thoughts and feelings about the place he or she perceives me to be from or culture from which he assumes I'm a part...well, that's even worse. So if I find that question annoying as a white woman, I bet I would find it waaaay more offensive as a POC.

    In my opinion, the best we can do with each other is start from a place we understand, something we have experience with, and use that as a stepping stone to attempt to understand the experiences of others. Sure, that understanding is going to be imperfect, but that's kind of the best we can do. I don't think my approach is that unusual, and in fact it's frequently recommended as a way to help others, especially children, understand discrimination.

    I am white and part of a multiracial and totally non-traditional family, both immediate and extended. I don't get singled out when I'm on my own thanks to that white privilege we all talk about, but my family is regularly for various reasons. I'll never understand fully what it means to be POC. But I have had several tastes of the obnoxious questioning mentioned here, of discrimination in other forms based on sex and language and life choice, and I do think that experience is valuable when it comes to identifying with the POC in my family and outside it. But I totally agree that none of us are experts on anything outside our own experiences.

  56. As child, I was frequently spoken to in other languages and one two occasions, scolded for denying my heritage. I am a dark complexion American who is of West African, European and Native American ancestry. I am from the earth.

  57. It's called Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome (coined by Dr. Frank Yu). It's the assumption that you have to be foreign (from somewhere else) by virtue of your race. A first-generation caucasian immigrant would never be subject to the same intensity of interrogation by perfect strangers as a fourth-generation Asian in the West. It's the idea of the manifest destiny of whites. It's like they are confronting a dilemma that there's an Asian person in their midst: "This is not one of ours, this one has to be from somewhere else." "California" is not an acceptable answer to the where-are-you-from question, because as Asian Americans know by now, that is followed by "but where are you REALLY from, originally.",blogs,forums/anti-Chinese-persecution-in-the-USA-history-timeline.htm

  58. I'm from a West African country but also happen to hold French and Canadian citizenships. These are a few things which often happen to me and how I address them:
    - I've just met some white or Canadian-born non-white person, we're having a little chit-chat when suddenly, the person asks me where I'm from. I don't take offence at the question since I've been only living in Canada for about 7 years, so I always state my country of origin which is a certain West African state. Then, when I return the question to the person, I'll always get: "Oh, I'm Canadian." Excuse-me? I always fire back by asking them from what first nation they're from because let's face it, unless you're a descendant of the Inuits or a First Nation, you can't make me feel as if you've more right to call yourself a true Canadian than me. People I've asked that were at first shocked but they did answer me back by telling me where their parents or ancestors are from. I could read on their faces that they'll never ever ask that question again, at least to a non-white person.
    - Like I said, I have French citizenship, was born there and spend more than 10 years there. When I'm with my fellow Canadian citizens, the white ones, they're always in awe of what another white Canadian person's going to tell them after spending... what 1, 2, 6, 12 months in France? It's gospel to them. Could I dare to correct any fallacy or stereotype that might be conveyed? I only meet blank stares which scream: "What do you know about it, hum?" Let's say, another French person or even someone from Western Europe shows up and decides to make some corrections about what the Canadian guy was saying, what happens? The Gospel effect, again!

    Although I spent my childhood and my teenage years in Africa, I've spent more than half of my life in Europe and North America. I know white people on both sides of the Atlantic enjoy telling you about their experiences of your country, showing you how abnormal it's of you to not like this famous singer of your country who does "World music" and let's not forget, how they went to that village and were welcomed as the Messiah. When I was younger, I used to deal with this load of crap, by smiling, nodding and keeping quiet. Now that I know better, I just tell the person that I don't enjoy those types of conversation and that I find them condescending and annoying.


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