[Melissa Nadarajan | Contributing Writer]
Like many people born in this country, I’m English. I might not drink tea or partake in national pastimes like chasing cheese down a hill, drinking Smart Price cider on a park bench or dogging, but my telephone voice is cringingly like something off of Downton Abbey.
More specifically I’m a Londoner. I was born there, I grew up there, London is my home.
So when people ask me where I’m from, I will undoubtedly answer: London
“No, where are you from?”
Erm yeah, London.
“You know what I mean, where are you from?
Do I know what you mean? Do you know what I mean? Am I saying it right?
I…I’m from London?
It’s getting awkward now. This conversation is going round in circles and if you haven’t given up by now, you’re trying to reword your question so you don’t sound racist.
Of course I know what you mean, I know exactly what you mean but I’m going to make you say it. I’m going to play dumb and make you squirm, because I’ve had this conversation too many times and it got boring a decade ago. What you’re trying to ask me is why I’m not white. But you would never word it like that. Instead, I get questions like: “Where is your blood from?” (I’m no expert in biology, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with bone marrow.)
I’ve seen the minor panic in peoples’ eyes when they try to pronounce my name, but it’s not nearly as entertaining as the confused frustration on your face when I keep misunderstanding you.
Yes I’m mixed raced. Racially ambiguous if you will. Apparently that makes me ‘exotic,’ but I assure you I’m no more exotic than a bag of soggy chips. But think about this word. Exotic: strange, different, foreign. What might be a compliment in your eyes is telling me I don’t belong.
If you have any sense, asking where my parents come from will get you a more direct answer, but I’m not from where they’re from. I’m from here.
So why this cruel and unusual punishment for simple human curiosity?
Because I’m not my ethnicity, and I’m truly tired of people placing their own crappy schema of a culture on me because it doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t tell you a damn thing about me as a person, my personality, what I like to do for fun, what makes me tick. Instead, all the stereotypes, clichés and that you think you know about a culture are placed on me and I have to put up with idiocy like:
“You don’t like curry? But you’re Indian!”
I’m not. And curry sucks.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of my ethnicity, it’s that I straight up don’t identify with the culture behind it. I don’t speak the language, I don’t like the food, I wasn’t raised to believe in those gods; it’s as foreign to me as it is to any random on the street.
My parents are from two different sides of the planet and I’m considered a foreigner in each of them. I’m considered a foreigner in this country because I don’t match the description of a Western European. I have nowhere to truly call my own except my beautiful, grey, piss-soaked city and by refusing to accept that as where I’m from you’re tearing a little part of me up and spitting on it. You’re telling me that I’m wrong about my own identity.
Accept that i’m from where I say I’m from and stop this charade. I would have more respect for you if you had the balls to just straight up ask me why I’m not white.
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