Ally Malcolm as a little girl, wearing pyjamas and sitting on the floor with a spaniel dog
Student Life

Where are you from?

By Ally Malcolm @ally_malcolm

I don’t remember the last time or the first time I was asked ‘where are you from?’ but I know when someone asks me this question, I feel conflicted and like a fraud. I know as a Person Of Colour (POC) I should be annoyed, tired of constantly feeling like I don’t belong. Angry at having to explain that I’ve actually spent 18 of my 21 years living in Australia. That my mum’s Australian, and living in Australia is actually all I know.

Don’t get me wrong I do, when the question leaves their mouth these feelings and thoughts arise promptly. Yet somehow when I’m asked the question it slightly makes me feel seen and more connected to my African American side. I don’t know if it was being raised solely by a white mother, in a town where I was one of the only POC, thus causing me to feel a lack of connection to my African American culture and family, and in turn causes me to feel lost. Because although yes, I am half Australian, I’m not white passing, so when I was younger being able to respond and say that I was born in the US, that I’m half African American gave me a sense of belonging. Even if it came with the price of feeling like an outsider within the community, I was living in.

Admitting this makes me feel like I’m letting not only myself down but other people who are also constantly asked this question.

Because at the core of this question is a microaggression, it’s someone making it a point to say you don’t belong.

It was a confusing experience. Finally becoming aware of what microaggressions were, pairing the newfound understanding to my experience and educating myself on the effect questions just like ‘where are you from’ have.

Growing up my experience with the question was when my mum quite regularly asked about someone’s background or where they were from, her intentions were always out of pure interest and just generally wanting to know more about someone and I never really thought twice about the impact. That was until I became older and after being asked consistently, I felt out of place, like I’m a problem they’re trying to decipher.

As people of colour, we are faced with racism and microaggressions daily and although questions like ‘where are you from’ may seem innocent, I can’t recall a singular time I’ve left the conversation feeling wholly positive and eager to be asked again.

Featured image: Ally as a kid with her uncle’s doggo

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