But where do you really come from?

Questions of identity and belonging.



12/4/20222 min read

Let me ask you this. Where do you really come from? And having been asked this , do you resent the question ? My response would be that it depends where I am, and who is asking me. When people discern our English accents in France, they invariably ask us where we are from. In their minds, of course, they have already decided the answer. But the answer is never simple, although I usually just say that I am British. But I just have to step back two generations and things become slightly more complex as my grandfather was born in India. Brian 's response is complicated by the fact that he was born in Zimbabwe, but his ancestors emigrated from Wales . Moreover he is now a French citizen. Of course, if we prevaricate , our French inquisitors just roll their eyes, for they know for certain that we are both 'English.' We usually accept their question in good grace. Our French neighbour tells us that an English accent is thought to be attractive, and many people are naturally curious to learn more about 'our country' or practise their own language skills. That said, I am occasionally rankled by the feeling that I have already been branded as an 'outsider,' and am suffering from a mild form of racism.

But just imagine how it must have felt to be Ngozi Fulani, a British citizen and founder of the charity Sistah Space, to have been asked over and over again this question as she attended a function as a guest of the British monarchy recently: “ ah yes, but where are you really from?” There is no clearer evidence that there are elements of British society that remain blatantly and illogically racist. To them a person's skin colour can make them an outsider , no matter what their actual nationality.

Tina, the main protagonist in my soon to be published novel , learned this the hard way. In spite of living in Britain since 1968 , she was taken to an immigration removal centre under threat of immediate deportation. When asked for her nationality she replied without demur:“British. I’ve been British all my life,” . An accompanying official just sniggered. Later on in my novel she and her family and friends are celebrating in their local pub. Tina has just been granted the 'right to remain." Suddenly a stranger intrudes.“British?” a jeering voice broke the mood. The whole pub fell silent as everyone’s attention turned towards the slightly drunken man sitting at the adjacent table. “British my arse,” he continued. “You should go back to where you came from, and take the rest of your bleedin’ friends with you.” Joseph, Tina’s future son in law responds eloquently: “Just remember mate,” he proclaimed in his deep and tuneful voice. “We are here, because you were there,” Hence the title of my book :'Because You Were There.' (pub2023)


’I'll leave the last word to Martin Rowson , whose political cartoon appeared in today’s ‘Observer.’ It depicts the Royal gold coach progressing slowly along a British high street , as ambulances queue up on the other side of the road to access the local hospital . There are signs of future strikes and food banks all around. A voice comes from inside the coach.“ No, where do we really come frawm? Glawstershah? Kinsingtun?” Another voice replies:“...Kommen wir aus ...im Schwarzland.”