Are you from Africa?

Are you from Africa?

Imagine moving to a new a country where one of the first questions you get asked when you meet new people is Are you from Africa? To some this may not seem like a big deal, they want to know where you come from they’ve already marked you as something foreign before you’ve even opened your mouth, but why than could they not have simply asked, “Where are you from?”. But it is a big deal, because it usually proceeds actions like¬† Touching my hair without permission, or the weird looks I get when Germans try to speak a French to me (because it will make communicating with me easier), and I tell them their only options are English and German. And are also proceeded by statements, “Oh your English is so good.” Or “You must be from Ethiopia.” They are always so sure that they know where I originate from when because of Slavery and Colonialism I have no idea where my familial roots come from. It all eventually shapes itself into one of two stereotypes maybe both, I am either an oversexed African refugee woman who will do ANYTHING for money with old men or I am an oversexed African woman using a German only for their money and ability to stay in Germany.

And yet as soon as I say I am African-American, all that goes away (Except the part where I am clearly oversexed or maybe they think it’s undersexed, hard to conclude), and I feel as if my cultural identity is then taken away. I am only referred to I am only referred to as American, my roots are stripped away as if I cannot be someone with African roots and American. I am given a “white card” meaning I’m treated to smiling faces and suddenly a lack of suspicion, I now have a valid reason for being in Germany. My marriage to a German has more meaning, more importance, because it must be love now not money. I get to be apart of the in-group and not regulated to the out-group. Suddenly my residence card is ready in three months along with my work permit before I met all the language requirements, meanwhile I know others still waiting having entered the country over a year earlier than me. Until I leave the current representatives of the in-group and I must ask for my “white card” back from the next set of people belonging to the in-group.

Discrimination and Prejudice are everywhere and it takes many forms. It may not always be actions like suddenly your neighbors are disrespecting your spouse after two years of good relations. Sometimes it’s simply words that make you feel like an other or that you have no right to be there. Sometimes it feels like others have made decisions for you about who you are. And other times it’s being fast tracked for no reason in that for your nationality that makes you one of the good “Africans” and having to prove your worth to every new person. Being looked at a certain way that makes you doubt your own good intentions, your intelligence, or your cleanliness.

References:

Nelson, A. (2018). Lesson 6: Intergroup Relations/Diversity . Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1942493/modules/items/25002507

Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.A. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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2 comments

  1. This question is such a double edged sword, and as someone living outside the U.S. I meet a lot of people from various places so this question gets asked a lot. Even by myself so it’s not necessarily something to be completely beat yourself up over. The problem I see where it arises is when you ask someone who is clearly say American as well as another culture. But you just assumed there’s was no way they could be American even though you’ve just been speaking to them. In that case it’s best it just simply comes up in natural conversation, and things like talking about what you did as a child or food usually open up the door to discuss heritage. A better question might also be what’s your family heritage because that opens the door to stuff. But you really should pay attention to the person and perhaps a less direct approach is better. Although if you’re clearly in a room in an international setting I find this question an appropriate direct question.

  2. Benjamin Kendall Soltero De Martin

    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

    Until recently, I never had understood that any issue existed when asking someone “where they are from?”. I had always used it as a way to “break the ice,” and not to insinuate that someone was foreign to wherever I lived at the time. It truly was just another avenue I could use to learn more about a new acquaintance, and I applied it equally to all people. About a month ago, my spouse, who is from Mexico, mentioned how bothersome it can be when people constantly ask about where he was born. That conversation has really made me think twice about how I approach another person about their life and upbringing.

    Lately, I have been doing my best not to ask these types of questions to new coworkers or classmates. While I am still curious because I love learning about different cultures, I am more aware of the uncomfortable nature of my inquiries. Do you have any suggestions on what would be an appropriate way to ask someone about this topic, or should we just let it come up naturally in conversation? I want everyone to feel like they are part of my in-group, and that includes learning more about their story.

    Thanks again for sharing your story,
    Ben

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