This is going to be a long post. Something I rarely do in this forum. Buckle up…
Here are my considered words prompted by the recent incident at a Buckingham Palace function. I fully appreciate the issues and sensitivities around the ‘where are you really from?’ question. For some, it’s very personal. For some, it’s sometimes tiresome. Out of any particular context, it can also be initially confronting for some.
The ‘Where are you from?’ question used to be asked of me almost on a weekly basis when I first moved to NZ. One day, I was waiting for a bus and I’m approached by someone asking for a spare $2. I politely say no. He shakes my hand and says “Welcome to New Zealand!” The urge to shout “But I’ve lived in NZ for 4 and a half years!” was great, but he obviously couldn’t have or wouldn’t have know that… Assumptions are everything and nothing at the same time!
I can recall another instance when I used to catch the bus to work and I would often have the same driver. That day happened to be hot and sunny. The driver commented on the heat as part of his friendly banter and I politely agreed with him. He then said ‘Of course, you would be used to this heat where you come from.’ Before I even thought about it, my quick-as-a-flash, reflex answer was ‘What, you mean in London?’ My stock reply in these situations is always ‘London’. I replied that way, knowing I would get a funny look or people would squirm and invariably the questioning would abruptly stop.
Over time, I have quickly come to realised what people were really intended to ask me was ‘What is your lineage or whakapapa?’ I know now that this knowledge is really important to know here in Aotearoa New Zealand as it is how Māori establish their genealogy or line of descent of their ancestors. It’s seen as a positive thing and done in a positive way here in NZ.
But, coming back to this latest case, you would thought that given the event that this happened at was at a Buckingham Palace reception representing a UK charity which supports women of African and Caribbean heritage who have faced domestic and sexual abuse, the person involved in this embarrassing incident would have had the correct guidance or advice.
The line of questioning is undoubtedly borne out of ignorance. This person should have known better as she and others in that position have official advisers to let the know the score. It is true that in some cases, people in this position choose to either ignore any advice or not even seek the advice in the first place…
I get why the person questioned in this way decided to publicise this incident on social media. If you’ve been asked that question all of your life, the straw is metaphorically going to break the camel’s back at some point. With that, if it were me in her position, I would want to meet with the lady in question and accept her apology in a public forum. I would use that opportunity to educate.
I hope this long post goes some way to educate. Thankfully most people don’t live their life or think in this way. One day, these types of questions will hopefully cease and never happen again. The day that happens cannot come soon enough… 🙏