I hate small talk, it’s dull, boring and exhaustingly repetitive. If I could rule the world, I would ban it for eternity in a heartbeat. Undoubtedly, my greatest grievance with small talk is that it always leads to one frustrating question being asked by someone new and often someone white:
“Where are you originally from?”
“England.” I reply.
“No, where were you born?”
Of course at this point I’m well aware of what answer they really want me to say. However, I’m reluctant to play ball, not out of shame for the answer but in frustration that subconsciously they’re actually saying, “you’re black, you can’t really be English.” Never stopping to second guess what they’re subliminally inferring, finally they ask, “Where is your family from?” Eventually I relent, I would be lying if were to say England again. To end the interrogation, I give them the answer they really wanted to hear – some place exotic, some place foreign, some place that is inherently ‘other’. I tell them, “Kenya.” Immediately their faces light up and quickly an avalanche of excited and curious questions ensures about said country.
Obviously, their intent was never to offend, but when a white person asks someone of colour, “Where are you originally from?” even though that person sounds as English as they are, it’s as if they’re questioning their identity and forcing them to qualify their Englishness and identity with a ‘but’. Personally, I would never go as far to say that such a question is racist, however I would consider it misguided and honestly, unfair. I was born in this country, grew up in this country and in my heart, I wear it’s Red and White with pride. So if my mind, alliances and passport says I’m English, why can’t I be English?
In multicultural Britain, it’s a source of pride to see diversity, people from all parts of the world and walks of life accepted with such open arms and warm smiles to this country. However, with that same multiculturalism it is important to open up the definitions of what it means to be English, because being English should never be restricted to what your birth certificate says, shackled to the language your parents speak at home or chained to the colour of your skin, being English is about what your heart says and being able to answer the question, “Where are you from?” with joy and without second guessing, “England.” And no one should be able to tell you otherwise.
“Where am I from?”
“I’m from England.”