London Daily

Focus on the big picture.
Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

What is it like to be repeatedly asked where you are from?

What is it like to be repeatedly asked where you are from?

When a senior royal aide repeatedly asked a prominent black charity boss where she was "really from", during a Buckingham Palace reception, it sparked an outcry. Being intrusively probed about your cultural and ethnic heritage is an unwelcome but frequent occurrence for many people. So what makes the question "where do you really come" from so loaded?

Ngozi Fulani was attending a reception hosted by Camilla, the Queen Consort

Most people belonging to an ethnic minority in the UK will have been asked this many times, by people of all ages and political leanings. It is so common it has become a cliche.

Reading about what happened to Ngozi Fulani at Buckingham Palace reminded me of being asked this question a few years ago. I was out for drinks with a large group of friends and a young white man of about my age repeatedly asked me where I was "really from".

Each time I answered with increasing levels of detail, until this stranger had heard about my entire childhood. But he still kept asking.

I eventually gave up and said that I am Indian.

"Aha!" he exclaimed. "Got there in the end."

I'm proud of my heritage, of my religion, of being South Indian - I have a strong connection not just to the culture, but to the physical place too. With the exception of the pandemic years, I have visited Bangalore about twice a year.

But if I want someone to know about my cultural background, I will bring it up with them myself, or it will inevitably come up naturally in conversation. This man's insistence really bothered me.

"I hate it when people ask me that," a friend of mixed-ethnicity tells me.

"At university it was constant. I just used to say 'London', and then they'd say, 'but where are you really from?' and gesture towards my face. No-one else in my halls was asked that question, because they were all white - they all got asked what they were studying.

"When it's someone's first question, and no-one else is being asked, it makes you feel like you don't belong somewhere."

Another friend agrees: "I forget sometimes about how I'm perceived - and it's really irritating to then have to explain my difference. Especially as I have no idea why my ethnicity even matters."


Born and brought up in the UK, Ashitha Nagesh is often asked where she "really" comes from

My sister says she finds being asked where she is "really" from "crushing". It makes her remember primary school teachers challenging her as a young child, when she told them she was British.

"It's such a toxic question," she says. "It makes you feel like because of your skin colour, you can't be 'from here'. When they say, 'where are you really from?', they're saying, 'you're not really from here'."

This is ultimately about being made into what theorists call the "other" - to be identified and characterised wholly by your difference. Someone has seen your skin colour, and has immediately registered you as different from them because of it. Finding common ground and feeling a sense of belonging is an innate human desire - this denies us that.

Identity is complex and constantly changing. If I tell someone I'm Indian, what does that mean to them? Does it imply I must have more in common with someone who has lived their whole life in Bangalore, than I do with a white person who grew up in the same city as me, went to the same school, walked the same streets, drank under-age in the same pubs and taunted the same teachers?

When I am asked where I'm "really from", my personal history is being dismissed in favour of an imagined similarity with a place I have never lived. I am seen as a stereotype, or a puzzle to be solved - how did someone with my skin end up in this country? The subtext is that rather than belonging here, I must belong to somewhere else.

Ashitha Nagesh and her late grandmother pictured in Karnataka in 2012


Interestingly, everyone I spoke to told me they do not mind being asked where they are from by another person of colour, particularly if they are of a similar ethnic background. I have noticed this too - when someone who is visibly South Asian asks, I have often chosen to say that I am Indian.

"It's because they're not asking you to differentiate you," my sister says. "They're asking to find common ground, to make you part of their community."

I wonder if any of this feels different for my parents, first-generation immigrants who grew up in Bangalore and moved to the UK in the 1980s, a few years before I was born. They have lived all over the UK - from the Shetland Islands, to Wales, the north-east of England to London.

"I didn't mind being asked in the first few years I was here," my mum says. "At that point this wasn't really my country yet - and for other people, I didn't look like them and I didn't sound like them, so I understood why they were asking. But I still get asked the same question now, after being in this country for almost 40 years. It makes me feel that whatever I do, I'll never be considered as really 'from here'."

The final person I asked was my husband - a white recent first-generation migrant, who moved to the UK from the US when we married six years ago.

How does it feel for him to be asked where he is from - is it offensive in the same way?

"To be honest," he says, "I don't really get asked that."

Newsletter

Related Articles

London Daily
0:00
0:00
Close
Russia is rebuilding capacity to destabilize European countries, new UK report warns
You Are So Beautiful
EU Commission wants anti-drone defenses at Brussels HQ
Postmodern Jukebox European Tour Version
Von der Leyen’s 2nd-term pitch: More military might, less climate talk
An old French tune (by Georges Brassens) Pomplamoose ft. John Schroeder
Global Law Enforcement Dismantles Lockbit Ransomware Operation
Sattahip Motor Show 20
Prince William Urges End to Gaza Conflict
SONATE AU CLAIR DE LUNE - Moonlight sonata
UK court to hear Assange's final appeal against extradition to the US, where he faces charges related to his journalistic work—the publication of a classified video in 2010 that exposed US war crimes against humanity.
A kiss to build a dream on
About 50-60% kids either chose to be YouTuber or influencer
Wonderful Tonight - Eric Clapton (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
A viral video of Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce lying on a Canberra footpath is celebrated by his media mates.
Mean Blues
European Countries React to Navalny's Death by Summoning Russian Diplomats
La Chansonnette
Israel has gone ‘beyond self-defence’ in Gaza, says Labour’s Streeting
Pattaya Addicts
English farmers to be offered ‘largest ever’ grant scheme amid food security concerns
Franz Liszt - Liebestraum - Love Dream
Cameron government knew Post Office ditched Horizon IT investigation
Dream a little dream of me
EU Calls for Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza Conflict
Unchained Melody sung like you've NEVER heard!
EU Vows To Hold Putin "Accountable" After Meeting Alexei Navalny's Wife
Dave Brubeck - Take Five
EU Launches Probe Into TikTok Over Child Protection Under Digital Content Law
Édith Piaf - Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Sofie)
The EU Initiates Naval Mission to Defend Red Sea Trade Routes
Rondo Alla Turca
EU and UK Announce Joint Effort on Migration
Kiss of fire
Brazil's Lula Likens Gaza Operation to Holocaust, Israel Says "Red Line" Crossed
Tom Jones - I´ll Never Fall In Love Again 1967, 1989, 2001
Ministers Confirm Proposal to Prohibit Mobile Phone Usage in English Schools
Israel Cachao López - Guajira Clásica
Microsoft-backed OpenAI valued at $80bn after company completes deal
Edward Maya - Stereo Love (feat. Vika Jigulina) (Extended Mix)
‘Alexei would want to tell Russia not to give up fighting’
Strauss - Radetzky March - Karajan
Rwandan Footballer's Dismissal Sparks Concerns Over UK Asylum Plan
La vie en rose
Whisky Challenges China's Baijiu Market During New Year Celebrations
The Temptations - My Girl (Smokey Robinson Tribute) 2006 Kennedy Cent
Avdiivka - Symbol Of Ukrainian Resistance Now In Control Of Russian Troops
Orlando Cachaito Lopez Redencion
Putin Critic Alexei Navalny's "Killers" Refusing To Hand Over Body, Say Allies
Edith Piaf - NON, JE NE REGRETTE RIEN
"Historic Step": Zelensky Signs Security Pact With Germany
RADETZKY MARCH-2008-Wien, New Year Concert
"Historic Step": Zelensky Signs Security Pact With Germany
Only you (And you alone)
20 Tech Giants Sign Effort To Fight AI Election Interference Across Globe
Strangers In The Night
Joe Biden Accuses Putin of Causing Navalny's Death
Charles Aznavour - La Boheme
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has died at the Arctic prison colony
Summer time
Tucker Carlson grocery shopping in Russia. This is so interesting.
Sting and Stevie Wonder - Fragile (from Sting's 60th birthday concert)
Julian Assange's Wife Warns of His Death if Extradited to US
Aux Champs Elysees
‘A lot higher than we expected’: Russian arms production worries Europe’s war planners
Stand By Me - Ben E. King (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Greece Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption Rights
La Mer (Beyond the Sea) – Avalon Jazz Band
Hungarian Foreign Minister: Europeans will lose Europe, the Union's policy must change drastically
She
In Britain Homeowners are receiving CPO’s (Compulsory Purchase Orders) so their homes can be redistributed to migrants
Nathalie Song by Enzo Petrachi Stjepan Hauser Cello
Microsoft says it caught hackers from China, Russia and Iran using its AI tools
Shape of My Heart - Sting (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Influencers Exploit X Platform for Profit Amidst Israel-Gaza Conflict
Radiohead - Creep
Former Dutch PM And Wife Die "Together Hand In Hand" Via Duo Euthanasia
Quizás,Quizás,Quizás - Andrea Bocelli - Jennifer Lopez
Media Giant Paramount Global, Which Owns CBS News, To Cut 800 Jobs
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps - Multi-Couples
US Rejects Putin's Ceasefire Offer in Ukraine
Pentatonix Havana
"History is Watching": Biden Encourages US House to Approve Ukrainian War Aid
Paula Cole - Autumn Leaves
Wolf! Wolf!: Joe Biden Joins TikTok Despite Washington's Security Risk Warnings
Oscar Benton Bensonhurst Blues
A Londoner has been arrested for expressing his Christian beliefs.
OH NANANA vs ABUSADAMENTE
Chinese Women Favor AI Boyfriends Over Humans
Nina Simone - ”I Put A Spell On You”. Vezi aici cum cântă Jeremy Ragsd
Kylie Minogue to receive Brits global icon award and will perform at ceremony
NIGHTWISH - The Phantom Of The Opera
Greece must address role in migrant vessel disaster that killed 600: Amnesty
Motorshow 2016 Tanjay Negros Oriental
Russian Oligarch's Seized Yacht Costs More Than $7 Million A Year To Maintain: US
Monica Bellucci - Ti Amo
Bitcoin Reaches $50,000 for First Time in Over Two Years
Michael Jackson - Billie Jean Milena The Voice France 2018
Travis Kelce's First Words to Taylor Swift After Winning the Super Bowl Have Us Swooning
Michael Buble (Help Me Make It Through The Night) feat Loren Allred
Memories Canon In D - Maroon 5 (Boyce Avenue piano acoustic cover)
Matteo Simoni - Marina
Maroon 5 - One More Night
Maroon 5 - Memories
Mark Knopfler - Brothers In Arms (Berlin 2007 Live)
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris - Romeo And Juliet (Real Live Roadrunni
Marina, Marina - The LUCKY DUCKIES intimist live concert at Guimarães
Major Lazer & DJ Snake – Lean On Mauranne The Voice France 2016
Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet - Joslin - Henri Mancini, Nino Rota
LoLa & Hauser - Love Story
Linkin Park Jay-Z - Numb Encore (Live 8 2005)
Hallelujah Mennel Ibtissem, The Voice France Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen - Dance Me to the End of Love
Leonard Cohen & Natasha Rostova - Dance me to the end of love
La casa de papel - Bella Ciao
La Camisa Negra
L'italiano (Toto Cutugno) - The Gypsy Queens
Juanes - La Camisa Negra
Jonathan and Charlotte - Britain's Got Talent 2012 Live Semi Final - U
John Powell - Assassin's Tango
Joe Cocker - You Can Leave Your Hat On (LIVE in Dortmund)
Joe Cocker - Unchain My Heart 2002 Live
Joe Cocker - A Whiter Shade Of Pale
Jay Z & Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind LIVE
Jason Mraz - Im Yours (live)
Jarrod Radnich - Bohemian Rhapsody - Virtuosic Piano Solo
James Blunt - You're Beautiful
James Blunt - You're Beautiful & Bonfire Heart (Live at The Nobel Peac)
If You Go Away - Helen Merrill & Stan Getz (Tribute to Virna Lisi)
I'LL BE MISSING YOU
I Say a Little Prayer
Hotel California ( Eagles ) 1994 Live
Historia de un amor - Luz Casal. Vezi interpretarea Biancăi Sumanariu
Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover) on Spot
Heart - Stairway to Heaven Led Zeppelin - Kennedy Center Honors
HAVANA by Camila Cabello Zumba Pre Cooldown TML Crew Kramer Pastra
HAUSER and Señorita - I Will Always Love You
HAUSER - Waka Waka
HAUSER - Sway
HAUSER - Lambada
HAUSER - Historia de un Amor
HAUSER - Despacito
Great Pretender
Georgia May Foote & Giovanni Pernice Samba to 'Volare' - Strictly Come
Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues
GIPSY KINGS VOLARE Penelope Cruz
Fugees - Killing Me Softly With His Song
French Latino - Historia de un Amor
For A Few Dollars More The Danish National Symphony Orchestra (Live)
Flashdance • What a Feeling • Irene Cara
Filip Rudan - “Someone You Loved” Audicija 4 The Voice Hrvatska Sez
Eric Clapton - Wonderful Tonight
Enya - Only Time
Enrique Iglesias - Bailando (English Version) ft. Sean Paul
Enrique Iglesias - Bailamos
Elena Yerevan Historia de un amor
Ed Sheeran - Shape of You (Official Music Video)
Ed Sheeran - Perfect Symphony [with Andrea Bocelli]
Ed Sheeran - Perfect (Official Music Video)
Easy On Me - Adele (Boyce Avenue 90’s style piano acoustic cover) on S
ERA - Ameno
ELENA YEREVAN- Cancion Del Mariachi-IN STUDIO-2017 DPR
Dust In The Wind - Kansas (Boyce Avenue acoustic cover)
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Despacito x Shape Of You - Pentatonix
Deep Purple - Child In Time - Live (1970)
David Foster When A Man Loves A WomanIt's A Mans World (SealMichael Bo
Dance me to the end of Love ( Pi-Air Design )
Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise (feat. L.V.) [Official Music Video]
Conquest Of Paradise (Vangelis), played on Böhm Emporio organ
Cielito Lindo
Chico & The Gypsies - Bamboleo
Canción Del Mariachi - Antonio Banderas, Los Lobos • Desperado
Camila Cabello - Havana (Audio) ft. Young Thug
Camila Cabello - Havana ( cover by J.Fla )
California Dreamin' - The Mamas & The Papas José Feliciano (Boyce Ave
Buster Benton - Money Is The Name of The Game
Hallelujah Pentatonix
Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry Be Happy (Official Music Video)
Bob Dylan - Knockin' On Heaven's Door Emilia The Voice Kids France
Besame Mucho - Cesaria Evora
Ben E. King - Stand by Me Sax Cover Alexandra Ilieva Thomann
Bella Ciao
Bella Ciao - INSTRUMENTAL
Beautiful in White x Canon in D (Piano Cover by Riyandi Kusuma)
Bad Romance - Vintage 1920's Gatsby Style Lady Gaga Cover ft. Ariana Savalas & Sarah Reich(1)
BELLA CIAO 2020 - KARAOKE ITALIANO
BAMBOLEO - Gipsy Kings • Antonio Banderas, Katya Virshilas
BAILANDO (original)
Awesome Ukrainian yodeler - SOFIA SHKIDCHENKO (with English subtitles)
Avicii - The Nights
Atom - The Great Gig in the Sky
Aretha Franklin - (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Official Ly
Antonio Banderas - Cancion del Mariachi (Desperado)
André Rieu - Zorba's Dance (Sirtaki)
André Rieu - Can't Help Falling In Love
André Rieu & Mirusia - Ave Maria
Andrew Reyes Elton John - Don't Let The Sun Go Down The Voice 2020 (
Andreas Kümmert Whiter Shade Of Pale The Voice of Germany 2013 Showd
And I Love You So
All About That Bass - Postmodern Jukebox European Tour Version
Alan Walker - Faded (Piano Cover)
Ain't No Sunshine -- Bill Withers (cover by Canen 12 y.o.)
African music
Adriana Vidović - “Creep” Audicija 4 The Voice Hrvatska Sezona 3
Adriana Vidović - “Believer” Nokaut 3 The Voice Hrvatska Sezona 3
A Fistful of Dollars - The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Tuva
4 Beautiful Soundtracks Relaxing Piano [10min]
2CELLOS - Whole Lotta Love vs. Beethoven 5th Symphony [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
2CELLOS - Smooth Criminal (Live at Suntory Hall, Tokyo)
2CELLOS - Smells Like Teen Spirit [Live at Sydney Opera House]
2CELLOS - Despacito [OFFICIAL VIDEO]
13 Year Old Girl Playing Il Silenzio (The Silence) - André Rieu
094.All About That Bass
00 - SADNESS PART 1
(Ghost) Riders In the Sky (American Outlaws Live at Nassau Coliseum, 1
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You - Bryan Adams (Boyce Avenue ft. Conn
What a wonderful world
Moon river
×