Once, in a school in London, a teacher quite innocently asked a student of colour where he was from, and she was shocked by his aggressive response: he was from London of course! That child was angry that anyone could doubt his Britishness.
This is a question which divides opinion, and is considered by some to be racist. It is understandable that a child would not want to be treated as in any way different from his peers, and if a teacher asks
about his background, this would place him or her as not being the same as the others. So for a child, and even some adults, asking this question is wrong and implies that the questioner is racist.
There is another interpretation: the teacher was genuinely interested in the child, and knowing more about her pupils could help her to be a better educator.
A child will often take his cue from his parents. Many parents want their children to ‘fit in’ as seamlessly as possible, to avoid as far as possible standing out from the crowd; in short, to integrate, as they see this as the best road to success.
This way is easy for those Palestinians who have fair skin and blue eyes. It may be more difficult for others along the wide spectrum of skin colour found among Levantine people. But even a Western or English appearance would not always protect a child from abuse. I know of children who were speaking to each other in Arabic on a bus, and were told to go back to where they came from by some English children.
What is clear is that Palestinians are proud of their origins, and the majority never tire of talking about their background, their country, and above all their food! And this could be the best way forward.
It could be that encouraging children to be proud of their heritage gives them confidence and a sense of self which cannot be erased by racism. It is a way of enriching the culture of a great city like London, and showing that we may not be the same, but we are all equal.
Share your experience
How do you react if someone asks where you are from? Are Palestinians in London sometimes subjected to random acts of racism?
It would be interesting to hear from any readers who may have been subjected to racist remarks or behavior, and the circumstances in which it occurred.