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Why Asking "Where Are You From?" Is Racist.

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

Asking about someone's ethnicity, background, heritage, country of origin - however it is phrased - is not something that should be asked but rather offered when that person chooses to share.

This question was originally posed in the Moms Against Racism Facebook group by group founder, Kerry Cavers, pictured above.

No, I mean where are you FROM? What is your make up? How do you have such beautiful skin colour?


My white Moms, why do y'all want to know where I'm from?

We just moved in a couple of months ago and are getting to know our neighbors. So far they are lovely and we feel grateful to have such wonderful neighbors.

This happened to me yesterday...

Neighbor: Where are you from?

Me: I was actually born here in Victoria at the Royal Jubilee hospital (said with a smile)

Neighbor: No, but where are you from?

Me: um, I grew up in Tsawwassen. The town on the mainland by the ferries. (Said deadpan cause I know where this is going)

Neighbor: No, I mean where are you FROM (said with emphasis now). What is your make up? How do you have such beautiful skin colour?

And there it was folks. The question I have been asked countless times. And it is not until I say: my mom was Swedish, Irish, and English: My dad was African and Native Indian, is the asker satisfied with my reply.

Why is that? I don't think in my LIFE I have ever asked someone where they are from. I don't see the need.

Would you ask this of a white person? Why not?

I encourage you to ask yourself "why" 5 times. To get down underneath those biases. I would love for you to comment below with your thoughts and findings but understand if it feels too vulnerable.


Posted by Kerry as a response later that day:

I am so proud, impressed, in love, grateful, ALL the good feels about our conversation thread from today.

In 107 comments, NO ONE said anything that was remotely shaming. EVERYONE was open, honest, and supportive of each other. I loved reading each and every one of your comments. In fact, I have read through this entire thread twice.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to reflect and answer my question. I could see much learning and growth happening. I am sure there are also many who have been thinking about this but just haven't posted. Please know that this discussion today has helped to open hearts, minds, and shift perspectives. Thank you all so much ❤

Now, if I may, I will add my own reflections.

From your comments it seems that many of you have asked someone where they are from - few because of physical traits, some because of accents, but the most common reply was out of curiosity and to connect.

IMO, asking someone you barely know, in a casual conversation where they are from is white privilege. Let me explain.

(Generalized) White people walk around with an inherent sense of belonging. Wherever they are they feel they have a right to be there. With the exception of perhaps being in a situation where they were the ONLY white person in a group, white people never feel "out of place". Asking a white person where they are from is no big deal because both people do not feel vulnerable by this question.

BIPOC movements have always been watched and restricted. Not too long ago people would need to carry "papers" to show they had a right to be somewhere. Still today, Indigenous Canadians have their Status Cards which they are forced to show to prove their, well, status.

Not to long ago, and really still happening today, a "Where are you from?" is really a "You're not from around here", or "You don't belong here". I belong here because I am white. I can ask you this because I need to make sure I am going to be safe. If I don't feel safe, I can have you removed.

If you are asking someone where they are from and do not let it go after their first answer, you are now conducting an interrogation. It is your white privilege that makes you think this is okay to do. If someone wanted to tell you "where they are from" they would have told you the first time you asked. They are not dumb. They did not misunderstand you.

They answered your question with the exact information they wanted to share. They do not owe you anything more because you are curious or want to connect. Find another way to connect.

Find. Another. Way. To. Connect.

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