Mr Bump’s Provocative Question

Here’s a poser for you.

A black charity leader was at a reception at the royal palace last week. She had a conversation, apparently, with one of the old queen’s buddies. According to the media, it went:

  • Where are you from?
  • Britain.
  • Yes, but where are you really from?
  • Britain.
  • Yes, but what’s your nationality?
  • British.

You get my point? The implication is that in this case, the woman was being prodded repeatedly for some “African” origin. There’s the potential for this in the UK. Because of our colonial past, somebody might well appear to be… well, non anglo-saxon, I suppose you’d say… yet could easily be third or fourth generation British.

The charity woman in question has called it racism, and I suppose when somebody badgers you like that, it is.

But I just wonder whether that’s always the case? I’ve certainly asked a (parents were Bangladeshi) woman – more tactfully, I should add, and a long time ago – who did actually tell me. It started a wonderful conversation about her last visit. I was enthralled and we became firm friends for the whole time I was in the job. Far from being racist, I was given a delightful insight into life in another part of the world. In fact that’s why I loved London so much – its superb multiculturalism.

But here’s my provocative question. What do you think? Do you think it’s a permissible question in this day and age? Do you think it matters how the question is phrased?

36 comments

  1. Love your question and wholeheartedly share your point of view: the whole point is how the question is being asked! It is important not to be intrusive (or be seen as such), but genuinely curious about a person’s origins to better understand their values and opinions. I too have met very interesting people and had very enriching conversations with people from different cultures and backgrounds. And many of them started with finding out more about their origins. Now as to the questioning done by Lady Hussey: we’ll don’t get me started, but this shows Rüttenen an extent how removed from ‚the real world‘ the royal household operates….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes and yes. I’m a curious person and I like getting to know people. The age-old adage of judging a book by its cover applies here. We’re friends with a couple from the Dominican Republic; her skin is very dark while his is as pale as mine. Looking at them one might assume she’s African or perhaps Jamaican and he easily could pass for British, French or American yet they were both born and raised in the DR. Accents and interesting-looking people intrigue me and I have no problem saying “You have a lovely accent. May I ask your ethnicity?” I find people are happy to tell me all about their ancestry. For me it’s a great conversation starter and I’ve had some lovely talks with people just standing in line at the store. It’s a hell of a lot better than asking where they’re from! Many people are shocked to learn I’m Sicilian; I usually get Irish, Scottish or Jewish. It doesn’t upset me; I guess I don’t fit into their pre-conceived idea of what a Sicilian person looks like. Well, perhaps I don’t fit the mold, if there even is one, and I’m more than happy to set the record straight … nicely, of course.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’d be hard-pused to define what a Sicilian should look like. Darker skin perhaps because the climate is that much warmer? I’m just thinking of the Greeks I’ve met who are about the same latitude. But, of course, total generalisation. I’d think twice before asking, for sure.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, considering Sicily was invaded by just about everyone at some point, I think it’s safe to say there is no such thing as a typical Sicilian. My parents were both born there. My mother had olive skin, dark brown eyes and hair; she’d get a tan just going outside to hang the laundry! My father had fair skin which never tanned, sandy-colored hair and blue eyes. They simply were who they were.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. I remember a well-known person who swore black and blue that he was a Scot through and through, but when his ancestry was checked, tested, and verified, he was from an Italian immigrant background (poor peasant). He’s been somewhat silent on nationalism since then.
    We all come from somewhere else, originally, or our ancestry is so mixed that we can’t give a point of origin (except to maybe assume the point of origin of all – Africa). We can say where we’re born, or where our parents were born, and unless we want to give a genealogical spiel to the listener, we leave it at that.
    Repeatedly asking the question says to the person being asked that she’s not ‘one of us’ and is therefore from the ‘other’ and ‘somewhere else’.
    a belief that race determines human traits and capacities

    There are many ways to ask a person their family history, and badgering isn’t one of them unless you’re a cop (or other form of investigator). At the very least, she was rude, at the worst, she was exclusionist (I’m not sure I’d call her discussion racist, but that’s the easy term to use for someone being rude to a person with a perceived difference to the self).

    Liked by 3 people

  4. We always joke that the older people get, the less likely they are to worry about what they say, which is fine if it’s just your aunty who is not likely to be at an important royal reception. It is sad that we can’t take a genuine interest in people’s fascinating families and there is nothing wrong with being proud of your forebears, especially if they were exciting. But it is best to let family origins come out in natural conversation; there will be some people who actually have no idea where they came from and just want to be treated as an individual in their own right.
    I have actually been asked where I was from when working at Heathrow, a colleague assumed there weren’t any ‘English’ people working for our company!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Amazing how people ask? me? My last name is as Italian as can be, My hair has always been that color after my father, with long dark lashes but green eyes and such pale skin I look like
    casper the ghost from my mothers Irish side and all our countries have been invaded so we all
    have different looks. My dad was from Sardinia and they had a French, Corsican and even the Spanish invasion and the Sardinian dialect is being lost. Most Italians don’t understand it. Really I don’t care or know but i have enough manners I let people tell me their history if they want to, if not I go by the individual and like what I like.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Sometimes we do wonder about the origin of someone who’s radically different. But the question should be phrased as not to offend. I was often asked about where I was from and never minded it. But then I wasn’t an American. If I were, I might have been offended!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Certainly the circumstances surrounding the question matter. Unfortunately today there are folk just lying in wait to play the prejudice card. In those cases it matters little the obvious intent of the questioner. The mental cretin is prepared to ignore civility to further their own agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As someone born in the UK who is mixed race (and not white) I think it absolutely matters how it is asked.

    After a lifetime of the question being posed you know instinctively the intention behind it, so you react and reply accordingly. At least I do anyway 😉🖤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. To repeatedly ask someone where they’re from as if their answer is unacceptable tips the scales into racism. It all depends on the tone and motive of the question. I think about the saying, “Let your words always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)

    Liked by 1 person

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