Where are you “originally” from? That cringing question that largely foretells one is different or bears a telltale sign of being foreign. It can be a great conversation starter, helps to plot familiarisation, build connection, or travel more by knowing about another geographical space. Still, the hidden purpose of the enquiry depends so much on the enquirer’s body language and the course of the follow-up questions. Because unbeknown to the enquirer, every “foreigner” is psychologically evaluating the hidden purpose of such an innocent question; and in the ensuing moments, one with experience can determine if the questions are tilting towards stereotyping, racism or ignorance. However, for the inexperienced, the go-too psych evaluation of the hidden purpose of the question is through the lens of racism.
Over the years, I have used the benefit of the doubt lens to do the psych evaluation of the question. Asking such a question is laudable as it marks a sense of observation. However, it paradoxically espouses the exploration of one’s “telltale” sign. Thus, the question, “that accent, where are you originally from” may be excusable, as accents are locked to the geographical boundary the language is domicile. But enquiring based on one’s skin colour, something MLK had dreamt would be a thing of the past, is sensitive to being outright stereotyping or ignorance. Skin colour no longer holds a geographical location; it’s increasingly as fluid as language. A case in point at the 2022 world cup can be made; most French players were “black”, while most Moroccan players were “light-skinned”.
However, only the ensuing moments or follow-up questions are reserved for deciphering hidden racism in the question ‘where are you originally from”. One such famous case in mind was the convo starter and course between Lady Hussey, Prince Williams’ godmother, and Ms Ngozi Fulani. Reading the transcript of the conversation readily leaves the reader with a hunch that the hidden purpose of the enquiry is unequivocally racist. It is most famous and significant given that “Lady” Hussey is learned enough to know of MLK’s dream or the decency of a royal court not to make a racist enquiry. A racist purpose of the question is also akin to one bent on knowing if this economic migrant is clogging up the socioeconomic system even if the enquirer is employed and highly paid.
Simply put, once the enquiry does not help plot familiarisation, build connection, or expand your travel knowledge by knowing about another geographical space, it readily tilts towards stereotype, racism or ignorance, and most importantly, of no benefit to the “foreigner”. Even if the follow-up questions are “do you like it here? Do you want to stay here?” the enquirer does not have the powers to give a residency permit. Therefore, to the enquirer, be thoughtful in the purpose of your question or put yourself in the shoes of a foreigner for context and see if those line of questions is appealing. To the “foreigner” always give the benefit of the doubt, and like Ms Ngozi, don’t use it as an opportunity to teach. However, the general commentary is that we should do without this question, for historically, we are all originally from mother earth.