“Where are you from?” They ask.
“I stay in Glasgow.” I tell them.
This wasn’t the answer they were looking for and I know that. I’m well aware of that. But I like to make them aware that their question is unwelcome and I will not go out of my way to make them feel comfortable with asking it.
“Oh, right but where are you from?”
“Oh.” I act slightly surprised, as though I had no idea what they were so subtly getting at. “I was born in Milton Keynes.”
Still not the answer they were looking for. They’re going to have to elaborate and it’s going to get awkward.
“Where are you really from?” They continue.
Where am I REALLY from? That’s ridiculous and they surely know it, yet they still feel they have the right to ask that.
“I really am from Milton Keynes.” I state bluntly.
“No but where are you originally from?” They remain undeterred.
“What do you mean, I was born here.” My tone is clearly unimpressed at this point.
The level of awkwardness has increased.
“Yeah. So where are your parents from?” The interrogation goes on.
“My parents were born here.”
“Where are they originally from?”
The inquisition still has not finished. They have not found what they are looking for and will not cease until they do.
“My dad was Scottish and my mum is English.”
Wait, why am I still answering their questions?
They still look very unconvinced by this answer.
“What about your grandparents?”
Very soon I will have to provide my entire family tree going back generations, I am sure of it.
“British. They’re British. I’m British.”
They still look very unsatisfied with this answer. My headscarf is clearly making it impossible for me to be British.
They nod slightly. Maybe they smile. Maybe they even have the decency to look half ashamed of themselves but they are still very unsatisfied with the answer. The answers I am providing are not the right ones.
“Are you *Turkish?” They ask. [*Here you may insert any nationality in which the majority of the population are muslim]
They expect me to offer up my origins freely at this point but I refuse to do so.
This nearly always leads to more guesses.
“Oh, are you Moroccan?”
At this point they actually have the audacity to look at me like I’m down right rude for not revealing my nationality/ethnicity at this stage.
“Where are you from then?”
‘Because you’re something. You’re from somewhere else and its not here. You’re an other.’ are the words that go unsaid but float in the air between us.
“Britain.” I state blankly.
Enter further enquiries as to my birthplace; my parents’ origins and birthplace and my grandparents.
“Where are you from?” They ask.
“Where do you think I’m from?” I reply.
I like to change it up sometimes. Being an introvert, I rarely offer up personal information about myself; including my origins and birthplace. I find the questions intrusive. I make it hard for them sometimes. And so I should, I feel. Depending on the person, depending on their tone.
“Uh… Arabia?” They guess.
Laughter. I can’t help myself. Arabia?
“Yes, I’m from Arabia.” I smile.
Why does everyone (when I say everyone I mean this is not coming from one group in particular) feel they have the right to demand to know where I am from? When I give them the truth, my answer is not good enough for them and they question me as though I must make them believe me. The burden of proof is on me. There even is a burden of proof! Why do they expect me to tell them as though they are my keepers? Will I have to carry my birth certificate around soon, I wonder. There is little discrimination in the spectrum of people that feel they have the right to ask me these questions.
I’m British. I’m white. And I’m Muslim. I don’t fit into the boxes that they want to put me in and it troubles them. But it’s what I am.