“Where are you [really] from?”: A question to White British/French descendants-Canadians-settlers (by Eun-Ji Amy Kim)

“To examine Whiteness is to identify how race shapes the lives of both White people and people of colour [and Indigenous peoples]” (Yee and Dumbril, 2003, p. 100).

In her blog, Emmanueola (What’s your story?) urges all of us think about our story:

Each of us has a story to share, and educators must ensure that their students become confident and that all stories are heard and respected for what they are, even if they do not fall into conventional categories. What’s your story?“”

This blog post is my story, my story of an online dating experience. I share this story with you to challenge and perhaps think about the notion of “conventional categories” of being “Canadian”.

In the midst of writing my thesis, I got tired of a lack of human interaction, so I decided to try OkCupid – an online dating website. I can say that my 5 days of OkCupid taught me a lot about settlerhood. Let’s start with this:

“where are you from?”

Gosh… The notorious question: “where are you from?” (see Sumanthra’s blog/my blog post earlier). I mean, I get it. Because Montreal is a crossroads where people from diverse [ethno and linguistic] cultures meet, the question perhaps becomes inevitable.

However, being an ethno-linguistic minority woman, the question becomes complex. “Is s/he asking this question only towards to me because of my race or is s/he asking this question to everyone because the city is so diverse?”

Maybe academia has messed me up so badly, to the point of not being able to have a “normal conversation” without being too critical, or perhaps academia has taught me how to better resist, and not tolerate micro-aggressions BS, thus becoming more critical. So, whenever asked this question of “where are you from” on OkCupid, I literally had to stop typing, and think. In the end, I decided to tell them “where I am from” (i.e., born in Korea, lived in Winnipeg and Ottawa and now in Montreal). But I decided to also ask them back the same question – “where are you from?” – and see how they would response. Below are some responses I got:

Answer 1: I am from Kingston, moved to Montreal 2 years ago.

Answer 2: I am French, moved to Montreal 4 years ago.

Answer 3: I am Bangladesh, but I was born in Toronto but here now.

Answer 4: I am from here.

Ok, let’s play a game now. I want to you figure out, who is the “White-Canadian?”

(I think it is pretty obvious.)

Number 1: Anglo-White-Canadian

Number 4: Franco-White-Canadian

The question – “where are you from?” – works differently for people of colour.  It not only asks “where” they are from, but “what” they are [in relation to their ethnicity] as illustrated in the video Sumanthra shared in her blog (I’m From Canada really):

Just as the White American guy from this video claims to be a “regular American”, I’ve witnessed many White French/English descendent Canadians refer to themselves as “regular/average Canadian”.

In a supposedly mosaic, multicultural Canadian society, what does this mean? What makes their ethnicity [the Whiteness] average, and my ethnicity “exotique”?

I mean, this requires a whole other lever of analysis of historical, political, and social issues that celebrate White supremacy and normalize White English/French Canadian as “Canadian-ness,” making their Whiteness “invisible” while accentuating the “race colour” of non-White Canadian like me. Such discourse also fails to acknowledge the ongoing colonization (and cultural appropriation, misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples) happening in this land.

(view: You are always an immigrant when you’re on stolen land on CBC by award-winning poet Lishai)

Settlers [regardless of ‘where you come from’] should acknowledge their settler privilege and “speak of the land as Indigenous, in ways that are neither rhetorical nor metaphorical” (Lawrence & Dua, 2005, p. 124). The Indigenous peoples – who are the original inhabitants of this land – still identify “what” they are (e.g., Mohawk, Inuit, etc etc), along with “where” they are from (e.g., Kahnawake, Grassy Narrows, Winnipeg etc) in introducing themselves. Throughout my life, I have been given many lessons and stories from Indigenous scholars, Elders and friends from different communities. They all have different experiences of being “Indigenous” in this land, and speak different languages. However, they all told me the importance of grounding myself (Kovach, 2009) and to know where my ancestors and I are from.

As a woman of colour who is asked, “where are you from? [Not only the “place” where my ancestors and I originally from (e.g., Korea), but in relation to “what [ethnicity] I am (e.g., Korean)”]” constantly in my everyday life, perhaps it is easier for me to realize my position as “a settler who is not from this turtle island” and acknowledge that I am not from here.

Unless your ancestors are from this turtle island – “regular/average Canadian-settlers” just like “Korean-Canadians-settlers” – are clearly from somewhere else, other than Canada. So why did Number 1 and Number 4: White-French/British decedents Canadians on OkCupid skip in telling me “what they are”?

Grace Atkinson (2010) talks about the discourse of a Monolithic ‘other’ – “the inability of non-Aboriginal people to recognize the enormous complexity and sophistication of Aboriginal societies and the enormous ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and economic diversity of the Aboriginal population; this discourse imposes a common history of “Indianness” as determined and defined by mainstream Canadian society” (p. 122).

Monolithic discourse can perhaps be applied to Number 1 and Number 4 and other White French/English descendent-Canadians by themselves: the inability of White people to recognize their ancestry, the history of colonization, their complicity in the on-going colonization; this discourse imposes a common history of White supremacy within Canada determined and defined by mainstream Canadian society.

Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation—which is possible because of colonization. Let’s never forget that.

So what now?

A Cree woman scholar, Dr. Laara Fitznor once told me that:

“Decolonization means willingness to see and look back to history behind. Everyone needs to be decolonized. Not only Indigenous peoples. In engaging with decolonizing activity, asking questions such as “Where is power dynamics? What do encourage through this activity?”— are important. Also, decolonizing activity involves supporting Indigenous sovereignty, including Indigenous feminist sovereignty. (Personal communication, March 26, 2016, emphasis added)”

So, to all the [White] -English and French Canadians-settlers, let’s start looking back your history. Not only our shared colonization-history, but also YOUR individual history. Where are you from? Where are your ancestors from? You know, in the end, you too are not from “here”- so…

Where are you [really] from?



Atkinson, G. H. (2010). Do No Further Harm: Becoming an White ally in child welfare work with Aboriginal children, families and communities. University of Victoria Theses Data Base.

Kovach, M. (2009).  Indigenous Methodologies:  Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lawrence, B and Dua, E (2005). Decolonizing antiracism. Social Justice (32) 4, p. 120- 143.

Yee, J. and Dumbrill, G. (2003). Whiteout: Looking for race in Canadian social work practice. In J.R. Graham and A. Al-Krenawi. (Eds.), Multi-cultural social work in Canada: Working with diverse ethno-racial communities. (pp. 98-121). Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Author Biography:

Eun-Ji Amy Kim is a PhD candidate in DISE, McGill. Her current research interests include Indigenous Science Education and Aesthetics in Science Education.

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2 thoughts on ““Where are you [really] from?”: A question to White British/French descendants-Canadians-settlers (by Eun-Ji Amy Kim)

  1. Great read. If I’m ever in Canada and I ask someone where they from (regardless of what they look like), I fully expect any answer – but I don’t pry any further. If I ask a person of Asian decent the question and they simply respond with “from here,” then that’s as far as I go. I don’t do it for them to tell me their heritage, I do it to learn more about them.

    Anyways, I’m lucky to have a sort of opposite experience to this issue. I work for an international school in Seoul. Most of my students are ethnically Korean, but are “from” somewhere else. In my case (usually), I know their original heritage (Korean). What I don’t know is the recent places that they have lived. When I ask these students “where are you from?” they rarely respond with “Korea” and usually respond by saying something like “New York.”

    근데 은지야 내가 한국말을 할 수 있잖아. 그래서 캐나다에서 아시야 사람에게 “Where are you from?”이냐고 물어볼 때 물어보는 이유가 그 사람이 한국 사람인지 아닌지를 알고 싶기 때문이야.

    내가 모든 아시아 사람들에게 “한국 사람이냐”고 물어보는 것 대신에 그냥 다 “Where are you from?”이냐고 물어보고 혹시 내가 그 사람이 한국 사람이 맞는다고 생각하면 더 자세히 “구체적으로 어디서??” 좀 물어보고 싶어. 중국이나 일본 사람이면 내가 그냥 “아 그래? 그렇군” 이렇게 무관심하게 대답할 건데 진짜 한국 사람이면 우리가 공통점이 많이 있단 말이야.

    ㅋㅋㅋ 수고했어 은지야!

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