Who are you?

My name is Mana, and I am just like any other twenty-something junior who sometimes feels she has figured out what she want from life and the next second will be freaking out because she is afraid it won’t work out that way. I am just like any other college student who would rather binge on Netflix for good portion of my day than do any of my assignments. I like to believe that I hate injustice and bullied no matter who is being done to. Though I have been vegetarian for almost seven years, I will do anything to avoiding having to eat vegetables and or fruits. I just don’t like them. I consider myself outgoing, vocal about the issues that I find important, stubborn and most importantly always testing the boundaries of what is considered “normal. All of this combined with my faith and being a Somali is who I am but this is rarely what many people assume of me.People never really afforded me the luxury of using me who I am rather they ask their favorite question  Where are you from? As a practicing black Somali Muslim woman I am usually not that surprised by this question but I often find myself wondering what made them ask this specific question instead of the many others that they could have ask. Being asked where I am from has now become a normal routine of how people start a conversation with me and I am always left with some question of why.

The fact that people ask me where I am from is not the problem or the strangest part of this situation but rather it the fact that these people ask me this before they find out anything about me simply because of the way I look. There are more than 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States and a good portion of these people are born here and are just as American as any non-Muslim individuals. This appears to not matter because even in 2017 the religion, skin color, and gender still of an individual still determine if someone is good enough to be American. The other strange thing k about this conversation is the fact that the process of otherization and dehumanization is happening and often it is done by people with good intentions. I don’t mind people asking where I am from, in fact, I love when people ask me where I am from because it gives me the opportunity to talk about being born in Kenya. The problem with some of the people asking is that they are often asking to confirm their assumption about me being a foreigner which is the result of us vs them mentality in the United States. This often leads to the dehumanization of immigrant and or anybody who appear “different”. Their  lines of questions and inquiries makes having a  “normal “ conversation however that may be defined, incredibility difficult because they make seem like they are not able to have conversation just like they would with anybody who does not look like me talking to just another regular human being without making the conversation about the fact that “I appear different from the rest.” Whenever I am in this kind of situations the phenomenon of dehumanization of people who look like me is often apparent because many of this individual don’t interact with us in the stander of “normal” human interaction. For example, I have recently watched the movie “Get Out”(2017) and there were many issues the movie tackled but there is this one scene where the boyfriend(Chris Washington) of the girl(Rose Armitage) is talking to her dad and he keep on bring up about the fact that he would have voted for Obama for the third time if he could. The problem here is not that Rose dad liked Obama that much but he was dehumanizing Chris by showcasing his own believes that a person who looks different from him could not have “normal conversation” with him. He thought by gearing the conversation toward something Chris can understand he was extending a hand of unity when in fact he was showcasing that he thought Chris is inferior to him. My constant experience of being asked where I am from as if there is no way I could possibly be an American is eerily similar to this in many ways.  “Nice” liberals who insist of their non-racism while not actually engaging or regularly encountering any actual Refugees, immigrants and or Asylum seekers yet continue to ask a question that they really don’t want to know the answer to.  

As I have mentioned before, I don’t mind people asking me where I am from but I have been in this game for long enough to know the difference of who is asking because they are genuinely curious and who is asking just to confirm all the assumption that they have about me. I have to stop being offended or taking things personally because over the past couple of years I learn what it means to not easily connected with any particular community. I have learned how to stand up for myself when hateful comments and threats get out of hand but I have also learned what it means to walk away and ignore because I found it to be frustrating and time-consuming.  I’ve found comfort in knowing that I exist where I am, always between communities, always between places.



One thought on “Who are you?

  1. It’s interesting that they ask you “where are you from?”, rather than “who are you?”. The choice of the question seems to imply, as you say, that if they know where you are from, they don’t need to ask you who you are…because they’ll already know who you by where you came from.

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