Where are you from? I would be lying if I said the phrase has always triggered me because it hasn’t.
When I was an early high school aged student — who hadn’t discovered that race mattered or effected her in any way — the question always referenced a geographical location. Sydney (like most places) definitely exercises the hierarchy of suburbs and at that age I was privileged enough to live in the East. A locale synonymous with affluence, wealth, resource and access. When I was asked where I was from, I always responded without hesitance and with extreme pride.
Sometime between then and now it all changed. I still have the privilege of living somewhere that’s considered ‘cool’, but these days that’s not the response people are after anymore. When I respond with the name of my suburb, they always look incredulous as if to say “no, but really?”.
Then I say Australia. Given that I was born here and my family has been here for about 30 years, it seems like a reasonable response. The same bizarre look follows. They might motion to my skin, or behave as if it’s me making a joke and taking a piss because how can someone with skin like mine be from a place like Australia.
Eventually I either get bored of trying to challenge people’s micro-aggressions or decide that I don’t have the emotional space to resource their conversion, so I say what they’ve been waiting to hear.
Ghana. The West of Africa.
Suddenly it all clicks; especially if the person who’s asking isn’t a POC, the dots connect. Balance is restored and now they can continue to view me from the one dimensional lens that they’re comfortable with.
Most people will argue that the question isn’t malicious. People just want to help put context around you, so they understand you better. That I can acknowledge but I would argue that a conversation with me would do more than asking me what my ethnicity is.