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