Things I’m so done with hearing as a non-white British person

Stop asking me where I’m ‘really’ from

I’m British, and have lived in London since I was born. My grandparents came from Guyana. I’ve only been there twice, but I hear it’s pretty nice. But being brown and British means fending off a lot of questions, some that I love answering, and some just a bit odd.

Even with the development of London as one of the most multicultural cities in the world, I sometimes have go about my day justifying my nationality. Questions from guys have come thick and fast, and having origins in a country that even many British people haven’t heard of, means people are constantly trying to place me, and assume things about my identity, before I’ve opened my mouth.

Here are some of the ridiculous questions I’m tired of answering:

Where are you from? No, where are you actually from?

I’ve never found the first part too offensive, but the follow up question really clinches it. If you ask me where I’m from, I’m probably going to say London, because that’s quite literally where I’m from. Problem is, people tend to ask these two questions in tandem, expecting a detailed back history of my family’s immigration to the UK, even if I’ve barely even been to the country they emigrated from. If that’s the question you actually want to know the answer to, just ask me where my parents are from, and we can avoid any awkward expectations that you may have had about my nationality or birthplace.

So which country do I get to cross off my map if I sleep with you then?

Women of colour experience racial fetishism in all of its forms, and I’m definitely no exception to that. Aside from having to answer such a stupidly objectifying and outrightly gross question, I tend to have to deal with guys on ‘quests’ to sleep with women from every country in the world, or who want to ‘experience’ me for a night. My ex-boyfriend once told me how badly he wanted to have ‘freshie sex’ and fuck me in a sari, which made me uncomfortable and very angry. I’m sorry to any WOC who have experienced this level of disrespect, you all deserve so much more. And guys, just please be better, for everyones’ sake.

Oh, so did your parents travel a lot?

The dorky London private school uniform I’ve spent literally my whole life in as I’ve never lived anywhere other than London

Particularly on my year abroad, people really did their best to justify the British accent coming out of my brown face. I had multiple people ask me if my parents had global jobs, which meant I’d have my Brit accent would have a cool elite and cultured origin story. I wish I was lucky enough for that to be my life. Nope, just boring old Enfield, London. Lived here my whole life. And I promise my accent doesn’t sound nearly as cool when I start forgetting to pronounce my consonants and using more North London slang than actual normal words.

You’re Indian right?

Performing at the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in the Trinidad and Tobago flag colours because Trinidad and Tobago are geographically and culturally closer to me than India

No I’m not. At least not in the way you think I am. Sometimes, people would do the opposite of assuming an exciting backstory for me and make assumptions that were way more reductive. I got ‘What generation Indian are you?’ maybe four times and my family isn’t directly Indian. My family’s actually from Guyana. Being introduced as the British exchange but not really looking like a British exchange made people in America particularly want to place me in a context they could understand. Wrongly I might add.

But you look so exotic, have you lived in England you’re whole life?

I’m sure I look the most exotic with a red solo cup in hand

The Princess Jasmine syndrome is definitely real. One of the most common opening lines I get on Tinder and seemingly the favourite term of endearment for anyone who has ever been interested in me, people seem to love telling me how ‘exotic’ I look. In America, it was definitely something that I’ve always gotten more travelling the South than at my college, in fact more so down South than even in the UK. My accent is extra exciting because I’m not white. I can tell comments like this are supposed to make me feel really good, but really it just alerts the world to how not white I am. I know Jasmine’s the hottest Disney princess or whatever, but I’m not about to be super flattered when you tell me how spicy yet cultured I look or sound.

Different races, different reactions

If it got all Hunger Games up in here and you had to bet on who the British exchange student was, who would you pick?

However, there has always been definitely as much good as there is bad. For every person that has ever said something stupid or offensive, there was probably another person who was genuinely curious about my background and wanted to fix gaps in their own knowledge. The only way to fix ignorance, even subtle ignorance like this, is through education, and I’m all too happy to play my part in educating people about being an ethnic minority Brit.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every person who has ever wanted to talk to me about race, nationality and ethnicity, most of whom are lovely and inquisitive and sensitive, but for anyone who ever is curious, please please ask me loads of questions.

I love talking about being Guyanese, and letting me speak for myself is miles better than you putting your own expectations and assumptions onto me, because a lot of the time, they’re just very wrong.

Reductive and objectifying comments aren’t fun for anyone. Just thinking about phrasing questions to me about not being white, even for a second longer, will make all the difference. You could accidentally ask something super offensive, go home, and think nothing of it, but you should know that I’ll be replaying it in my head for ages afterwards. Let’s be more sensitive,  smarter, and change that.