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Thu Jun 22, 2017, 11:32 AM

Tempted to ask strangers 'where they are really from?' Here's why you shouldn't



“Where are you really from?” is a question you are likely to hear if you are not (perceived as) white. This is a person’s terrible way of trying to figure out what, rather than who, someone is. It is usually reserved for people of color—often those people whose looks are just racially or ethnically ambiguous enough to be confusing to those who have a very inappropriate need to know someone else’s heritage or cultural background. Now before you get upset about this (and someone most certainly will)—you should know that there is a difference between being curious and being nosy and racially insensitive. We all get curious about other people. It’s human nature. But asking someone this particular question is not the best way to help you connect with them—even if they don’t get offended.

The question “where are you from” in itself can be fairly benign. Sometimes it simply means what town are you from or what part of the country are you from. But sometimes, for the person on the receiving end of the question, the impact can be the implication that they are not from “here.” “Here” can mean many things. Not from “here” as in this particular town, this particular state, this particular country. This question, though seemingly harmless, inadvertently taps into a sense of belonging—especially if you are a minority. Minorities are often burdened by explaining themselves to people in the majority as well as feeling alienated by the constant reminder that they don’t belong. The question “where are you really from” (emphasis on the really) overwhelmingly implies as sense of foreignness. As in, “I don’t believe you or your people can possibly be from “here” (wherever “here” is).

Presumably there are some people out there having a knee-jerk reaction to reading this. After all, this is a time where everyone’s sensitivities are heightened and with good reason. Since Trump’s election, hate crimes are on the rise. According to CNN, “of the nearly 1,400 hate crimes and bias incidents the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked since the 2016 presidential election, anti-immigrant incidents were the most reported, followed by anti-black incidents.” Trump has incited violence because of his xenophobic, racist rhetoric. People of color are terrified for their physical safety and mental/emotional well-being. Asking someone “where they are really from” may be triggering and scary, in addition to annoying. It is a question that strangers don’t have a right to ask and shouldn’t feel entitled to.

But this also brings up many feelings about talking about race. As a country, we don’t do this well—at all. And well-meaning white people who often ask this question (though its a question that is certainly not limited to whites), may feel attacked because telling them that they engage in racist, microaggressive behavior evokes discomfort and denial.


https://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/6/20/1673497/-Tempted-to-ask-strangers-where-they-are-really-from-Here-s-why-you-shouldn-t

I can tell a lot about the people who ask this question. If they accept the US state/region I give them, then it's OK and we move on. But if they persist (nevertheless they persisted) and want to know where I came from before I was born, then I know they are probably voted for Trump. Most minorities and children/grandchildren of immigrants know to ask "where is your family from?" instead.

It is easily the biggest problem I face in my career where some of us have security clearances and others are guest workers on visas. And some people have built their careers on pretending there is no difference.

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Reply Tempted to ask strangers 'where they are really from?' Here's why you shouldn't (Original post)
IronLionZion Jun 2017 OP
SHRED Jun 2017 #1
Ezior Jun 2017 #2
jalan48 Jun 2017 #4
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #18
Dave Starsky Jun 2017 #23
jalan48 Jun 2017 #25
bettyellen Jun 2017 #28
HipChick Jun 2017 #8
SHRED Jun 2017 #9
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #10
Egnever Jun 2017 #27
LexVegas Jun 2017 #3
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #11
LexVegas Jun 2017 #26
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #33
NurseJackie Jun 2017 #38
LexVegas Jun 2017 #39
SweetieD Jun 2017 #5
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #15
Blue_Adept Jun 2017 #6
NightWatcher Jun 2017 #7
Orrex Jun 2017 #12
Dulcinea Jun 2017 #13
dixiegrrrrl Jun 2017 #14
bettyellen Jun 2017 #29
dixiegrrrrl Jun 2017 #35
bettyellen Jun 2017 #37
Caliman73 Jun 2017 #16
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #17
dixiegrrrrl Jun 2017 #36
furtheradu Jun 2017 #19
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #20
usedtobedemgurl Jun 2017 #21
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #22
usedtobedemgurl Jun 2017 #24
Egnever Jun 2017 #30
Dem_4_Life Jun 2017 #31
IronLionZion Jun 2017 #34
jonno99 Jun 2017 #32

Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 11:48 AM

1. I just woke up...thank you

 

I ask this of people I meet who have a unrecognizable accent.
I do it out of innocent curiosity.
I'll stop.

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Response to SHRED (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:03 PM

2. Sometimes it's probably OK

For example, if you know that someone has just recently moved to the US or is a tourist / visitor, then I guess it's okay to ask where they are from. But if there's a chance the person was born in the US or is a naturalized citizen, it's unfair to ask that way. There are probably ways to ask the question without implying that you assume the person is a foreigner.

I've seen a young woman's YouTube channel. She was born and raised in Germany and people always asked her where she was from, because she's black. (Also, especially older people sometimes still use the German N-word because they are ignorant, and some use it because they are actually racist.) She felt like a stranger in her own home country. Now she apparently lives in Spain and feels at home. It made me sad, but I'm glad she found a nice place to live.

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Response to SHRED (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:10 PM

4. I think it has to do with being interested in the other person as opposed to targeting them.

It's interesting to learn about different cultures as well as talk about our own. The brown shirts want to target people who "look different" as a way of creating scapegoats for our society's problems while other groups loot the treasury.


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Response to jalan48 (Reply #4)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:59 PM

18. Intent, context, and other factors are involved

It's normal to want to get to know someone as a friend or whatever to find things in common while celebrating diversity.

Some Trumpsters are targeting people to blame for the changes they see in society and the economy and focus on finding differences to divide people.

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Response to jalan48 (Reply #4)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 01:27 PM

23. Is there a way to do it without sounding like a dick?

I'm genuinely interested in where people are from, what it's like to live there, the history of the place, etc. It's never meant to be rude or even sound rude.

I imagine it has a lot to do with your tone when you ask them.

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Response to Dave Starsky (Reply #23)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:24 PM

25. Just talk with them first. Maybe it never gets to the point where you feel comfortable asking about

where they are from, religion etc. You can sense if they are friendly or more reserved. I think if you are sincere most people will forgive you if you make a mistake. I find that if I have read something about a region it helps because the conversation can be informative for me.

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Response to Dave Starsky (Reply #23)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:36 PM

28. If they don't have an obvious accent, you shouldn't assume they're not natives or neighbors?

 

some people treat people who don't look the same like they're freaks. I think as long as your pleasant and open minded and not presumptuous- or grilling the person as if they owe you an explaination (entitled people do this) it'll be fine.

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Response to SHRED (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:21 PM

8. Please stop...

I refuse to even answer anyone who ask this question..It's incredibly rude

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Response to HipChick (Reply #8)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:22 PM

9. I never meant to be rude

 

Sorry.

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Response to SHRED (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:23 PM

10. I just met a British person who has no British accent and Middle Eastern name

It became a conversation piece because she has an ambiguously neutral accent despite being born and raised in the UK and then immigrated to the US very recently.

It's OK to ask where someone's accent is from or where their family is from as part of getting to know a new acquaintance. It's more important to learn other non-cultural things about the person first if one has a genuine interest.

The problem is assuming someone is from somewhere else simply because of race, or using their race as "proof" that they can't be a citizen of the most diverse country in the world. And a lot of immigrants have become US citizens and been here for decades while keeping their accent from another country. This is especially sensitive in the Trump era where a lot of undocumented immigrants who have European heritage fly under the radar while Latino, Asian, and African heritage US citizens are threatened and even shot by racists. Knowing when it's OK can be complicated, so if in doubt, don't.

Context of the conversation matters. In my case when people insist I must be from somewhere else, they are usually Trumpsters. If it has any context relating to work or future work opportunities, I spend my first sentence or two drilling into them that I am born and raised in America US citizen with US citizen parents and security clearances in a firm confident manner that they will never forget. Before telling them where my grandparents immigrated from. At that point, their next question is usually about ethnic restaurants or recipes or they will be too shocked/disappointed to continue this line of questioning.

Diversity is unstoppable!

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Response to SHRED (Reply #1)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:28 PM

27. Oh good lord

 

You can't go around in life worrying about everyone's insecurities perceived or not. Pretty soon you won't be able to open your mouth period.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:07 PM

3. Last time I got asked that, I said "United States" and the follow-up was "No, I mean originally". nt

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Response to LexVegas (Reply #3)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:26 PM

11. People always laugh at me disbelievingly when I say United States



Have you ever heard "Wow, your English is so good!"?

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Response to IronLionZion (Reply #11)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:25 PM

26. No, English is my first language. I get asked strictly based on my "foreign" looks. nt

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Response to LexVegas (Reply #26)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:59 PM

33. Yup, same here. Everyone knows what a foreigner looks like nt

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Response to LexVegas (Reply #3)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 05:06 PM

38. Like this? :-/

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Response to NurseJackie (Reply #38)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 05:09 PM

39. HA. Exactly.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:12 PM

5. So asking where you are from is not ok, but asking where is your family from is ok?

Doesn't make a whole lotta sense to me.

I was only asked that question when I was in Europe. When someone said where are you from.. I'd say the US. And then it was usually followed up by, no I mean where are you really from. (because I am black). I'd still say US. But seems like people abroad assume black people are either from the carribean or directly from africa.

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Response to SweetieD (Reply #5)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:41 PM

15. Yup, traveling abroad no one ever accepts that I'm from the US

Because brown people must be from India, even when we're not. Things get really interesting because the Indian diaspora is everywhere, even outer space. So there are people with distant Indian heritage but are from Fiji, or Guyana, or Singapore, or Tanzania, or Scotland, or wherever.

What would you suggest for black people? I dated a black woman whose family has been in America long before the Trumps but they adopted African names and rejected their slave names. She gets the where are you from question, and responds Chicago. And when they persist, she tells them that her name is Nigerian but she's American. Nigerians have positive stereotypes so she benefits from that in her career.

It's really up to the individual. I appreciate it when someone is woke enough to ask where my family is from rather than where am I from because it is a very significant issue in my career. Others may feel differently.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:12 PM

6. Usually if it comes up I just ask what their heritage is

But it comes up rarely since I stick to just having white friends

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:17 PM

7. It comes across as "what the fuck are you doing here?

Once you get to know them you can ask where their ancestors are from in a much less intrusive way.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:30 PM

12. I usually sneak a cheek-swab while they're yawning

A quick DNA test later, and I know the whole story.



It also help me in my quest to build my clone army.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:35 PM

13. I ask sometimes.

I've taught ESL and worked with refugees. When I ask, it's out of curiosity & because I'm interested in other cultures. YMMV.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:37 PM

14. One exception would be the South..

Southerners WILL ask "where are you from?", in an effort to "place" you. If you answer with a town/city/state, they usually go on to either comment on the place ( My cousin went to Seattle a few years ago) or ask how long you will be staying "here".
At first I took it as nosiness, until I came to understand what it really meant.
The tone gives an important clue. So now I know to have an answer which includes "place" information.

But...if someone down here says, in a very even flat way.."You are not from around here, ARE you?"
means you have work to do to be accepted.
I've gotten that a few times, and I always smile and say "I wasn't lucky enough to be born here, but I got here as soon as I could" and people relax and chuckle and nice things after that.

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Response to dixiegrrrrl (Reply #14)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:40 PM

29. You have to work to be accepted? I shudder to think.

 

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Response to bettyellen (Reply #29)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 04:55 PM

35. I have to be accepted in order to work, actually.

If I am going to make my living in a culture I was not born into, seems perfectly logical I learn to speak the language, as it were.
Esp. given that I am expected to work with clients in the culture.

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Response to dixiegrrrrl (Reply #35)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 05:03 PM

37. It's odd because I feel like we leave our cultural differences at the door when we go to work....

 

It can't be an issue at most offices in NYC. We're too much of a melting pot to insist people remake themselves into anything more than a professional.

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Response to Caliman73 (Reply #16)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 12:47 PM

17. Oh yeah that's a classic!

Love it!

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Response to Caliman73 (Reply #16)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 04:59 PM

36. Ohhh. a cool site. thank you.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 01:00 PM

19. I ALWAYS ask rude, obnoxious people.

Especially after they express rwnj opinions, inappropriately (as if it's ever appropriate!).

They proudly tell me where they are from.

I give them my best withering look & say, "huh".
Which is clearly interpreted as,
"please go back, & stay there"
*OR*
"I will never, ever go to the wretched place that spawned your ignorance".

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Response to furtheradu (Reply #19)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 01:03 PM

20. They're everywhere

they are deep inside very liberal places too

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 01:09 PM

21. I have this many times over....

for me it is to find out where they are from so I can either thank them in their language (if I know it already) or if I do not know their language I will then proceed to ask by saying, "I like to show people respect my thanking them in their native language. Would you please teach me how to say thank you in your language?" After they teach me I put it on my note pad so I can remember for the next time.

Many good things have come from this practice. My kids were chosen as ambassador for the day at China Epcot since they thanked the employees by saying "Shay Shay". Hope I got the spelling right but it is the respect that counts, right? Anyway, they were brought up in front of a big group of people and introduced and they taught the audience how to say thank you in Chinese.

One a cruise ship a restaurant manager rushed over to introduce himself and asked what part of Malaysia I was from. He explained that my server told him I was visiting from Malaysia. I said I had never been. He was puzzled and said I said thank you so well that the server was sure I was from there.

A Korean man who worked in a nail salon was so impressed that I thanked him in his native language that he rushed over to give me a discount card.

When I was in L.A. I thanked our Chinese waiter in his native language and he actually asked if he could hug me.

I guess I run in the same circles over and over since I only know 15 different languages to thank people in (or languages overlap in many countries). I taught my kids that this was a very important thing to do. I thought it was very cute when they said they knew how to say thank you in Canada. I told them of course I knew because I am from there. I told them 'thank you' or merci. They said no and that it was, "Thank you, eh?" I love my kids!

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Response to usedtobedemgurl (Reply #21)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 01:21 PM

22. It's not about language

it's about certain Trumpsters targeting minorities for discrimination and dividing us as being "less American".

Your story about thanking people in their language is very nice.

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Response to IronLionZion (Reply #22)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 01:28 PM

24. For me it is about....

assuming people are asking because they are prejudice or just nosey and cannot mind their own business. I ask because I really do feel it is a very respectful thing to do. Sometimes I will ask, "Where are you from so I may thank you properly in your language?"

I understand what backwards people do but I hate being lumped in with those types of people. Thank you. It is something we can all do to reach out and make things a tad friendlier. For me it is telling someone I may not know a lot, or anything, about them but I respect others and I want to show respect for them. I have had nothing but positive encounters by doing so and I hope my sons will continue the tradition.

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Response to usedtobedemgurl (Reply #24)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:41 PM

30. Good for you

 

Despite this articles cry for attention you are doing it out of a genuine curiosity and friendliness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:43 PM

31. Brings back memories....

My grandparents used to ask people this all the time. My grandmother was a nosy people watcher type personality and my grandpa was just genuinely curious. I would however always cringe when they would ask this question even though I knew they meant no harm.

They were the most culturally accepting of anyone I knew from their generation. They always raised everyone in the family to be accepting of every one.

A lot of their friends on the other hand where very racist. The last time my grandpa was in the hospital before he passed away one of his best friends were visiting. A new doctor walked in with a thick African accent. One of his friends asked the infamous question (with a tone) "Where are you from?" I of course cringed inside before bursting out laughing with his response. The doctor responded "I'm from my mother"

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Response to Dem_4_Life (Reply #31)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 03:03 PM

34. My mother's womb!

as if they're going to send me back.

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Response to IronLionZion (Original post)

Thu Jun 22, 2017, 02:52 PM

32. "Where are you from" - or "where did you grow up" is a question I've been asked MANY

times over the years. I see it as a benign, friendly conversation starter (or "extender".

However, the question "where are you REALLY from" carries a completely different meaning - the implication being that the person asked might be trying to deceive - or hide - their place/country of origin. This question has no place in polite conversation.

Now if someone were to tell me they were offended by the first (benign) question, I would apologize - explaining that no offense was intended, but I would then hope we could continue and have a conversation concerning the reason(s) this question is a sore spot for them in the first place.

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