Just in case you think this stuff only happens to you!

“It may not be racist, but it’s a question I’m tired of hearing”

Looking a bit brown still means being asked where you’re from. So here’s a ready-made answer for the overly curious

By Ariane Sherine

Last weekend, I had The Conversation for the 3,897th time – and this time, it took place in central London just two roads away from the hospital where I was born. As usual, it went like this:

Stranger: Where are you from? [Translation: You look a bit brown. Why are you brown?]

Me: London.

Stranger: No, where are you really from? [Translation: You are clearly telling me untruths. Brown people do not come from London.]

Me: London.

Stranger (exasperated): No, where are your parents from? [Translation: Now you’re just being obtuse.]

Me: Africa and America.

Stranger (confused): Erm … so where are your family from, like, back in the day? [Translation: People who come from Africa and America do not look like you.]

Me: Iran, India, Africa, America and England.

Stranger (relieved): India and Iran! Do you ever go back?

At this point, I have to explain that it’s hard to go back to somewhere you have never been. I’ve lived in London since I was a zygote, have a London accent and don’t speak any languages except English – yet just because I’m cashew-coloured, I’m often questioned about my heritage. Over the last five years, I’ve been asked: “What’s your caste?” (I haven’t broken any bones); “Do you go to temple?” (only on my way to Embankment); and “Do you need special food?” (as though the answer’s going to be: “Yes, St Peter isn’t going to let me in if I’ve munched on a bit of dead pig/cow/giraffe”).

It’s not that I’m embarrassed about my ethnic background. (For more, click here.)

4 thoughts on “Just in case you think this stuff only happens to you!

  1. Love this! Especially the reference to Temple/Embankment – gotta love the London Underground!

    I get asked questions like this sometimes. I've been asked if I'm from the Middle East/Israel/Spain. And when we visited San Francisco, we were told our accent was East Coast and when in New York, vice versa. I am British born and bred…



  2. “It's an odd misconception that you should somehow feel connected to a far-flung country because your ancestors lived there centuries ago, even if your entire life has been spent morris dancing in Loughborough.” Isn't this what Judaism's connection to Israel is all about?


  3. Yeah, I didn't relate to that point exactly as a Jew or as a Dominican. I do feel connected to the Dominican Republic, even though I was born in New York. I do feel connected to Israel as a Jew…though the news on conversion from Israel makes this connection more complicated than I ever could have imagined.

    I think people have an expectation that all children of immigrants feel connected to where their parents or grandparents came from and that's usually not the case. How many Italian-Americans feel any connection to Italy? More likely, they feel a connection to Italian-American culture here in the US.


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