Where Are You From? No, Where are You Really From?
A story of migration, identity and belonging, drawing on the stories of people from Audrey Osler's mixed-heritage family, over three centuries.
Whether or not we trace our families from beyond the shores of Britain, we British people deserve a better understanding of our shared past, and opportunities to explore and recognise the complexities and contractions of empire.
Careless or wilful amnesia has allowed the British migration narrative to begin in the mid-twentieth century, with migrants from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean forming the foundation of present-day multicultural Britain. A racist fixation means that some twenty-first-century Britons fantasise that people of colour arrived after World War Two, without any link to the country, to exploit the British welfare state and British hospitality.
For people of colour the questions, Where are you from? No, where are you really from? often imply more than simple curiosity. They are political questions of identity, since the assumption (naive or aggressive) is that to be British and to belong you must be white.
Says Audrey Osler: 'The British Empire frames and shapes my family's history. Whether born in Britain, like me or my father, or in some other distant British territory, like my mother, we all continue to experience the legacy of this same empire and the impact of its ambitions, politics, and economics. My family story, back to the eighteenth century, across every generation, is one of migration in different directions, over four centuries, journeys prompted by war, study, a global economic crisis, a fresh start, love, and even child abduction. The stories I tell here reveal as much about Britain as they do about the countries of the British Empire. This is not just my history, it elucidates the largely untold history of a nation and of its citizens, both people of colour and white.'
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