We’ve been quite quiet on the blog and in general lately as we’ve been trying to process everything that’s been happening in the world as well as taking some time to quietly educate ourselves. The Black Lives Matter movement is extremely important, not just now, but for the foreseeable future. We encourage everyone to take the time to educate themselves to be better allies. There are a multitude of resources available from people who are extremely knowledgeable in their respective areas.
After having followed a number of creators’ posts in the last few weeks, it’s led me down the path of educating myself on a few additional topics, one of which is racial microaggressions.
Now, what is a racial microaggression? A racial microaggression is a form of racism that is so subtle that neither party (victim nor perpetrator) may realise or understand what is going on. While reading about this, I came across an example that really resonated with me. The microaggressions are the questions, “Where are you from?” and “No, where are you really from?”
When I worked in a front-facing role in hospitality in Edinburgh, I was constantly asked these two questions. In case anyone is not aware, I was born and raised in Canada and my ethnic background is Chinese, so I sound like a “typical” North American yet I am not white. A standard conversation would go something like this:
Me: *starts talking*
Guest: *hears my accent* Where are you from?
Me: I’m from Canada.
Guest: Yeah, but where are you frommm?
Me: I was born in Canada, but I’m Chinese.
Guest: Ahh, okay.
I never took offence to these two questions, and based on some conversations I’ve had recently with fellow BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) Canadians, others have also never taken offence to these questions. We understand why people were asking us these questions, and we know that no one who has ever asked us these questions was trying to be racist. They were simply curious. However, I started thinking lately about why I never took offence and if that is a problem.
And I’ve come to this conclusion: People have asked me where I am really from based on the belief (even if it’s an unconscious belief, on both myself and others) that I can’t really be from Canada because I am not white.
Therein lies the problem.
We have a learned yet unconscious bias that the world revolves around white people and that anyone who is not white cannot possibly be from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand (as examples). We seem to see countries such as Canada as a land of white people, even though it’s not, both in the sense of the multiculturalism that exists as well as the fact that the land really belongs to the Indigenous people.
The reality is that if I was a white person and I was asked where I’m from and I said Canada, there would be no further questions. Even though all white people from Canada are descendants of people from a different part of the world.
Something else I realised (that I didn’t realise before) is that asking where I’m really from is essentially invalidating the fact that I was born and raised in Canada and that I identify as a Canadian.
As I said earlier, I understand that no one who has ever asked me these two questions was trying to be racist, but I believe it’s important to raise awareness of this unconscious bias that we all hold. And the fact that it has also taken me this long to realise why I was never bothered by these questions, despite its racial undertones, also shows my own unconscious bias. I look forward to educating myself more on this and a wide variety of other topics.
So what should you ask instead of, “No, where are you really from?” If someone insists on a follow-up question, I personally would prefer a question like, “What is your ethnic background?” or “What culture do you identify with?” The better option, though, might be to not ask the second question at all.
Please note that this post was not written to diminish the Black Lives Matter movement or to overshadow the systemic racism that exists against Black and Indigenous communities around the world. I can only write about my own experiences and my learnings from them, and as I mentioned at the top of the post, there are many, many resources available both online and offline for all of us to educate ourselves on these matters.
Do you have any experiences with racial microaggressions? Did you learn anything from this post? Let us know in the comments.