Firstly let me say in some places, it’s not very hard to be ‘different’. In the extremely white small town I grew up in because I was swarthy and tanned as a kid, I got called ‘Half-cast’, ‘Chinky’, and later ‘French’. Simply because my skin was yellow-toned rather than the typical milk-bottle white. This is anecdotal and small potatoes I know, but I can attest that to be on the receiving end of racism feels shitty. Even though this was just children being ignorant and mean, and I’m not actually ethically diverse in any way. This isn’t a post about racism. But I can only imagine what it’s like for people who genuinely do come from different backgrounds and face this needless crap every day, (and not just from dumb kids).
To be human is to be utterly contradictory, it seems. No one likes to be stereotyped, categorised, or labelled, yet as human beings we make use of these pigeon holes as short-hand for information. (Which often turn out to be less helpful to us in the long run). We like to group things into sets, sort the familiar from the strange. And this recent post by Jamila Smith really resonated with me, because I too have been asked all my life, that insidious question ‘where are you from?’
As an adult I don’t have obvious visual cues like skin colour to prompt the question, so why am I still being asked? Well, it’s my accent. It’s not typical of my home town, despite my entire family being born and bred here. And obviously when I lived anywhere else, my accent stood out so I got asked there too. It might be subtle, but the enduring, unsettling effect is one of feeling like I didn’t really ‘belong’. Although that thought never really crystallised for me before now, (thanks, Jamila).
I guess what I mean to say is that stereotypes and ‘otherness’ aren’t just a racial occurrence, and people really don’t need much to label one another as different. The older I’ve become, the more time I’ve had to realise that it’s these differences that make us who we are. That being different is its own gift. One that can make us into creatives, artists and writers, if we let it. We are given this new perspective by society, and it is our differences that allow us to see what it’s like from the outside. As I age, I have begun to see my point of view as precious. And for one, I wouldn’t change that for the world.
Different is not a dirty word. And this is not an either/or binary world. So, dear reader, I would like to re-frame the question ‘Where are you from?’. In future Instead of letting it make you feel awkward, I want you to own it. Because what people are really asking you is – “What makes you different?” And different is interesting, out of the ordinary, even unique.
Feel free to tell ‘where you are from’, and “What makes you different?” in the comments below. I’d love to hear about that.x