I’ve been reflecting on this “go back to your country” thing.
For me, I am fortunate enough to not have experienced outright racism related to being an immigrant.
What I have experienced as recently as today though is being singled out for my accent.
It is a very strange experience because I don’t have a heavy accent, and so I forget I have traces of British and Kenyan accents until people point it out.
This feels like being jolted out of a dream. The American dream, if you will.
And for some reason it hurts. I can’t explain why but it just feels like it creates distance between me and the person asking me.
Accents are supposed to be invisible.
You are not supposed to know you have an accent until you travel. But if you have grown up your entire life hearing:
“Do you have an accent?”
“Where is your accent from?”
“Do I detect an accent?”
“I can’t quite place your accent where are you from?”
It creates a permanent feeling of being a foreigner in your own home.
I’m a US citizen but yet I’m constantly reminded that I’m “from” somewhere else.
No matter how much you try to assimilate or integrate or become “American” you are reminded that you are just 98% there and you will never make up the gulf that is the 2%.
I love when people ask me about Kenya. I can talk all day long about my other home and country. But asking about my accent feels very invasive. It’s another way of saying “you’re not from around here are you?”
I know people mean well and I try to answer with as much grace as I can.
But my advice for those of you who want to comment on someone’s accent, maybe wait until they talk about their heritage first. That’s a good rule of thumb.
To know me, is to know that I am Kenyan-American. But let me be the one to bring it up proudly first.