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‘Where are you from?’: Now a dangerous question

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“Where are you from?” If you’re a migrant, or aren’t white, this seemingly simple question isn’t always so simple. You quickly have to anticipate what is often the true interest behind the question: “But where are you really from?”

Most of us who are minorities have comical or ghastly stories about someone not content with us telling them we were born here or where we grew up in Australia. I certainly have a few. But not many can compete with Ngozi Fulani’s experience at a Buckingham Palace reception hosted by Queen Consort Camilla.

The British charity CEO, who is of African heritage and Caribbean descent, was asked repeated questions about her origin by royal aide Lady Susan Hussey. When Fulani explained she had British nationality and was born in Britain, Lady Hussey insisted: “But where do you really come from? Where do your people come from?”

Buckingham Palace quickly announced that Lady Hussey, the late Queen’s lady-in-waiting, had resigned from her honorary position in the palace. A spokesperson for Prince William (Lady Hussey’s godson) issued a statement saying the comments were unacceptable, and that “racism has no place in our society”.

We should be clear about one thing. No one is saying you aren’t allowed to ask people about where they’re from. It is a good thing for people to be curious about others. Very few people would object to questioning that comes from a genuine interest in getting to know them.

But how a question is asked also matters. Manners maketh the man; or in this case, the lady. When you dispute someone’s nationality because of their race or ethnicity, you don’t get to enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

Watching this from Sydney, I was struck by Buckingham Palace’s swift response. No doubt, royal family dynamics played a role. Allegations of racism made by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, place the royal household under intense scrutiny for anything involving bigotry.





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