On “Where are you from?”

Tanvi Misra over at The Atlantic’s CityLab Navigator blog looks into the potentially loaded question, “Where are you from?” —

Trump’s inquiry was a ruder variant of “where are you from?”—a seemingly innocuous question that we all have encountered under different circumstances. It’s okay in situations where everyone is venturing answers: say, as a part of introductions in a classroom. But the question can be problematic when it singles people out on the basis of their appearance.

Most of the time, I get it when people detect my accent. In those cases, I’m happy to explain where it’s from. But often, I’m asked where I’m from even before I’ve said a word—often as a conversation-opener at a bar, on the street, or in an Uber. It irks me that in these situations, the question comes loaded with presumptions. Judging by the flood of responses I got when I asked people their reactions to the question on social media, I’m not the only one who finds the question daunting.

But on the other hand, I have to admit that I’ve also often asked people where they’re from, and it’s led to some really great conversations. The point is, just as with any other fragment of language, context matters. Below, I’ve unpacked some of the reasons people may be uncomfortable when asked where they’re from.

(links in original text)