Text: Ellen Wild
"Where are you from?" It is a question that some of us have to answer frequently. Sometimes, the answer isn't satisfactory for the questioner. "But where are you really from?" Hinting that your looks and/or accent can never come from the place that you are currently living. A very innocent question that, even when asked from a purely curious perspective, can make the questionee feel like they don't belong. And is belonging, not one of the core needs of everyone?
I recently came across a speech about equality, by the King of Norway in 2016. In said speech, he raised his voice for all those who didn’t feel welcome in Norway, especially the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants and refugees. It served as a reaction to the large debate that followed after taking in many refugees. A debate that took place in many countries across western and northern Europe.
What triggered me into reflecting about this subject, were the hateful comments this speech attracted online. The message that ran as a thread through these comments, was one of ethnics. That only those with Norwegian ancestral DNA, had the right to live in Norway and adopt its cultural practises.
But don't we all come from somewhere else if you go far enough back in time? Is migration not one of the pillars of evolution? Didn't the Icelandic too, came from places like Norway and the British Isles?
It made me think back to the few times I was subjected to very mild racism. Because all of them were in Iceland. One time I was being friendly spoken to by a man at the bus stop. That friendliness changed quickly in an angry face, snarling sounds and dismissive hand gestures when I tried to answer in broken Icelandic.
Today, this problem is as present as ever. This debate that takes away the power from its subjects, to let others decide for the in-wanderer. Where do they belong? What right gives someone to live somewhere? What right do they have to adopt the culture of their adopted home? What right do they have to keep hold of the culture they have known before?
Let me ask you this, judges of borders, what gives you the right to decide where someone belongs? Does that answer not lie in the heart, individually hidden and protected from an ever-judging world?
As if it is that simple anyway. With which culture does the adopted identify? Does he have to choose? What with those born far from their ethnic ancestors? What with those of mixed origin? With those who have lived longer in a place than in the place where they were born?
It seems like immigrants are judged no matter what they do. At the one hand, they are criticized when they don't integrate enough and visibly and audibly keep hold to cultures that are not of their adopted home. At the other hand they are criticized when they integrate too much. What gives them the right to wear the national costume or raise the flag? Sometimes it looks like they are ostracised no matter how they behave.
Maybe it is time to let everyone decide for themselves where their heart lies. Where do they feel at home? To which culture(s) do they feel like they belong? It has been long predicted that the DNA of the people of earth is becoming more and more ethnical mingled. The world keeps changing and we keep changing. We can't however have this discussion without acknowledging these 'judges of borders'. It is never right to gaslight the common mild racist on the street for his feelings, or anyone ever, for that matter. Whatever one feels, there is always a reason.
Because problems with people who have an adopted home are very real too. There are those who bring active resistance and fight to their adopted home. Because they don’t live in the same place as where their heart lives. Fighting the thought that colours can mix and create a beautiful palette.
Instead of deflecting and ostracising all immigrants alike, maybe it is time to start addressing these feelings of fear and threat. Why has culture and ethnics such a narrow definition for people with some racist thoughts? Do they feel invalid and unacknowledged when this definition widens? Does it feel like they don't belong themselves?
Self-image and self-definition have always been our biggest anchor. As if by changing views and opinions, we deny ourself. But remember, we are the judges of our own belonging. Dare to set yourself free.
So, instead of asking where someone is from, we could ask: "where are you home?".