“Where are you from?”
“Were you born here?”
“It must be quite cold here compared to where you’re from.”
“What’s it like to be black in Edinburgh?”
The worst one, “Do you know where your parents are from?”
“So where are they from?”
“My parents are Nigerian, I am from Edinburgh.”
“Oh, where’s that, west Africa? I thought by the length of your legs you were Tutsi.”
“No, my parents are Nigerian.”
“We’ve never been to Nigeria have we?” he says to his wife.
I give the table a halfhearted smile that doesn’t spread to my eyes and walk away.
I went over to put a jug of water and some glasses on their table and as I walk away I don’t know if I should burst into tears or laughter. Usually, I moan for about 20 seconds, roll my eyes and shrug it off but this time I felt a little bit different. Because this table of four white, middle class and middle aged men and women have managed to objectify me in less than five minutes and if I’m honest, it feels pretty shit.
I don’t mind people asking me where I’m from but I do mind when I respond and they look at me in disbelief and then ask the exact same question again but only more pointedly. I mind because at this point the tone of the conversation has changed and it doesn’t feel like a conversation, it feels like an attack and a rejection at the same time. I know more than anyone that I’m black, that I’m different; I’ve spent my whole life not being ‘the same’ as everyone else. It was me who was always the only black person in my year; it was me, who would sit in the theatre with my dad and we would be the only two black audience members, it was me whose parents sounded a little bit different to everyone else’s, the one who brought weird food in their packed lunch. It is me that has spent my whole life trying to strike a balance between wanting to be the same as my friends, the same as everyone else without rejecting my heritage.
Yes, my parents are Nigerian but that does not automatically make me Nigerian. I don’t speak the languages, I wasn’t born there, I have grown up in a completely different culture and society, I have learnt very quickly that a shared heritage does not mean you are accepted with open arms.
Identity is a funny thing, some say it’s constructed whilst others say it’s embedded. I would argue it’s a little bit of both. So, when I have spent so long working it out, carving my own identity that doesn’t leave any part of my heritage or culture behind, it’s hurtful when people question or reject it.
I am fed up of compensating for the ignorance of others, stop asking me “Where are you from?” Maybe have the decency to ask me my name first.