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Diversity and Inclusion

Afua Hirsch on The Question

This discussion guide is designed to get you and your colleagues learning and talking about racism and the Black British experience. This guide forms part of a weekly discussion group series that we created for the UK’s Black History Month, which runs throughout October. If you found this guide useful or would like to share some feedback, get in touch with us here.


The Question, as British journalist Afua Hirsch calls it, is a simple one:

“Where are you from?”

It’s a seemingly innocent question and Hirsch acknowledges that there is rarely malice in The Question — usually it’s just curiosity.

So what’s the problem?

As Hirsch writes in her book, Brit(ish),

…being asked where you’re from in your own country is a daily ritual of unsettling… It’s never the first thing white people get asked in a regular social encounter, it’s not an upfront demand for information, it’s not requested with such insistence that it becomes almost a condition of further interaction. The Question is reserved for people who look different.

The Question is a familiar one to people of colour in the UK. Sometimes it’s more overtly followed up with, “where are you really from?”, as truthful answers like “London” fail to satisfy the real root of the asker’s curiosity.

In an excerpt of Hirsch’s book Brit(ish) edited for The Financial Times, we’ll discuss the experience of people of colour in Britain the exclusion faced on a daily basis.


Here’s what you’ll need:

Participants: 2+
Time: 1 hour (plus an additional 15 mins to read the resource)
Difficulty: Easy
Resources: Key resource, discussion questions, anything you usually need for any remote joiners

This guided discussion will:

⚡ Reveal the impact of The Question, “where are you from?”.

⚡ Encourage your team to share and listen to personal experiences of microaggressions

⚡ Explore “covering” and how it feels to cover

⚡ Ask everyone to think about what it means to belong in Britain and how we build and unpick the belonging of others

Key resource: Excerpt of Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish) (15 mins)
🔗 Link: https://www.foyles.co.uk/blog-afua-hirsch-extract

One week before
✅ Send out an email and calendar invitation including the link and discussion questions.

One day before
✅ Send a reminder to everyone to read the key resource before the session. Note down some of your own thoughts which you can share to prompt others to do the same

On the day

  1. Welcome everyone and introduce the key resource and discussion topic, which is an excerpt of Afua Hirsch’s Brit(ish). (3 mins) 
    ✋ Before you begin, remind everyone that we are all learning and to respect each other’s comfort. No one should be expected to know the right answer, dig up personal examples or speak for any group they’re part of. Encourage the group to bear in mind that everyone is at different starting points in this topic, too.
  2. Ask everyone for their initial thoughts from reading the book excerpt. What resonated with them most? (5 mins)
  3. Work through the discussion questions. Be mindful of the time and nudge the conversation on to the next topic when someone stops speaking. If people need more encouragement to speak, start by sharing your thoughts. (50 mins)
    💡 What other ways might minorities be made to feel like they don’t belong? Does it matter whether it’s a macroaggression or a microaggression? Does anyone here have a story of being asked where they’re from? What are your reflections of times when you’ve asked someone else where they’re from even though they have a local accent?💡 Raise your hand if you’ve ever “covered” in the way Hirsch did at school when she subverted the truth in favour of something that is “easier to explain”. Why did you feel the need to cover? And if you don’t often feel like you have to cover, what is it that makes you comfortable enough to be yourself?🔮 Terminology refresher
    Covering = when someone tones down or masks what makes them and their perspective different.💡 What does it mean to belong? Can anyone give examples of things that have made them feel like they did or didn’t belong, maybe from when you were at school, around friends or visiting somewhere new?💡 Do you think that people of colour in the UK are made to feel like they fully belong? Why or why not? Have recent events like Brexit and the upsurge in the Black Lives Matter movement played a role?
  4. Wrap up by thanking everyone for attending and for their input. Let everyone know that they are welcome to continue the conversation in your company’s social channels and to share feedback on the discussion with you. (3 mins)

Afterward
✅ Send a follow-up email to thank participants and to re-share the resource and questions with anyone who couldn’t attend.

Afua Hirsch on The Question

Each week, we dip into the unanswerable, nuanced and gray areas of inclusion and offer, not answers, but inklings.

Get in touch with us here

Inclusion Works

This resource was taken from our Inclusion Works programme, which was created with a network of more than +100 diverse contributors and advisers. We learn from, amplify and cite creators of different races, ethnicities, genders and cognitive styles and continually work to represent all dimensions of diversity.