“Where are you from?”
This common opening is not such an innocent question after all, as Karabi Acharya rightly points out in a recent post. Too often, Acharya says, “this question is code — the person is likely trying to put you into a box of a country or ethnicity. At times, it can seem outright racist, based on the assumption that someone like you cannot be ‘from here.’ It divides people and categorizes them into discrete boxes.”
The recommended solution is a slightly different question. Acharya suggests asking instead “’What are you from?’ In other words, what cultures and peoples have influenced your life?”
I agree that this improves on the “Where are you from?” but not as much as Acharya imagines. It seems to ask for the more complete social media profile, seeking more data by which to assess and judge. More material for dividing people and categorizing them.
I prefer to know what you think, your values, your allegiances. My preferred question for people I have just met, and also for those I’ve known for years, is “What is most important to you right now?” Admittedly, this question also allows assessment, judgment, categorization. But it turns our conversation at the outset to something you actually are interested in, and your passions reveal who you are, what you’re made of, and often where you are from.
At the same time, learning about you is what is most important to me right now, so we are both on our most important topic. Which usually leads us to the common ground on which we both can stand.
[Daily post 073 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨