Where Are You Really From?

Happy Black History Month, everyone! I have tried to research topics that were centered around women and people of color and, to kick this month off, we will talk about heritage, about asking someone where they are from. Before I get started, I will let you know that this topic is one that I came across from leanin.org. They offer up resources to discuss within their Lean In circles and  the 50 Ways to Fight Bias resource cards particularly caught my eye. I can only encourage you to take a look at all they have to offer! 

Heritage is so important to Americans. I can't tell you how many people ask me where my grandparents, even great-grandparents, are from. What nationality do you most identify with? Do you have family living in that country? Do you go back and visit? I know some people that would blatantly state they are American through and through, while others will cling to their Italian roots (even though they have only ever stepped foot into the country once in their lifetime, if at all). These questions that we are so accustomed to asking, can sometimes come across as offensive regardless if that was our intention or not.  

I have personally traveled many places, lived in multiple countries, and am overjoyed when I hear an accent. My first reaction is to ask that person where they are from, what their home country is like, where they have traveled to... (I could drill them for hours with questions that would only begin to scratch the surface of my curiosity). Now that I am living back in the United States I have to admit  that I often forget some of these individuals might actually be citizens of the United States. They may have left their home country for better opportunities and don't want to relive their life story with me. While I can assure you there is no malintent from my side, I never thought about how the other person must feel. When we ask these questions to a person of color it can imply that any non-white Americans are not Americans.

When we speak of Diversity and Inclusion, it is so important that we are aware of the types of questions we are asking to people of color. When you ask a question like, "Where are you really from?", you are categorizing that person as an outsider when, in fact, they could be from the same area as you. They could be a citizen of the United States and, with your question, you are pushing them into an outsider circle. Instead of bucketing individuals back into countries where their families originated, we should be welcoming the diverse set of experiences and perspectives each person has to offer. I often have to ask myself, "Does it really matter if you know the answer to this question?". While I might be thinking that I am getting to know this person, their stomach could be clenching at the thought of not belonging.

I asked you to use this month to stick up for another person and you can do just that in these similar situations. If you hear someone ask these types of questions, I encourage you to help the other person understand how their question or comment could come across. You can make it clear that while you understand there are no ill intentions, you might be making them feel like an outsider. Sometimes we forget to simply take into account how we are making the other person feel.

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