BLOG: Where are you from?

Madeline (21) tells us her thoughts on microaggressions and ethnicity…

For many, this question is not intrusive. However, I will be exploring this from another perspective and attempt to bring some awareness around why this can be seen as microaggression.

Every time I hear the question, I wince as I wonder if this will lead to me having to explain myself once again”

I am of Chinese ethnicity and a woman; however, I’ve grown up in the UK for the majority of my life, and have limited knowledge about Chinese culture. My origins are extremely complex, being born in Hong Kong, adopted to British-New Zealand parents and living mainly in the UK. When I went to University, this was extremely hard to explain but I understood that it was an ice-breaker question for the thousands of freshers in halls that didn’t know each other. For many, this was the first time that they have moved away from their home town.

The problem I have with this question, in certain situations, is the assumption behind it. For some, they have already placed me within the Orient.

Orientalism is problematic as it suggests that the West (The Western world) is superior and knows the Other (Anything that is not the West) better than it knows itself”

In this question, the person has assumed they know more about me due to my difference in appearance, being ethnically Chinese.

So, when asked the question ‘Where are you from?’ my answer is ‘I’m from Windsor’. This answer has changed since I have lived in York, due to the following question ‘but where are you really from?’. This bothers me as there is an implication that I am not ‘really’ from the UK. Now my answer is ‘I was born in Hong Kong but have lived in the UK my whole life’ because I feel as if I have to explain myself. This extra layer of explanation is because I feel as if I have to clarify my difference in appearance.

Many seem to fixate on the fact I was born in Hong Kong. The comments I have received from this have included; ‘Oh! I speak Japanese’, ‘Why didn’t you say you were from China’, ‘Ni Hao’, ‘I thought you were Vietnamese… Filipino… [insert any Asian country]’. There needs to be an awareness that Asian countries aren’t all the same, nor are they interchangeable. In comparison, you wouldn’t assume that someone from England can also speak German from their ethnic appearance or assume that France and Italy are the same place.

There is an awareness of Western countries being different which doesn’t seem to reach the Other”

These comments are microaggressions and make me feel worthless. This is a common occurrence for many people who are ethnic minorities. Therefore, next time you ask someone where they’re from – please think about this.