Vhutsilo Masibigiri
6 min readMar 8, 2023

Where do you really come from?

It sounds like an innocent question, but it is not? I used to hear this question a lot but did not pay attention to it. Someone would ask, ‘where do you come from?’ Then I would give an answer. If I am talking to a South African, I would give the name of the city or the suburb or both. And then some people would continue with, ‘where do you really come from?’

I have struggled to answer this question. My struggle is because I have already answered the question. What does, ‘where do you really come from,’ differ from ‘where do you come from’. Is it looking for a different answer? What is the answer to the second question supposed to be? I have asked some of the people what is meant by ‘where do you really come from’? And I have never received an explanation. Maybe it is me reading too much into this.

What does ‘where do you really come from’ mean?

This question became worse and annoying for me when I joined an online dating site. In the dating site, I would get asked the question. ‘Where do you come from?’ Followed by the question, ‘Where do you really come from?’ and those who were asking would not explain what that means. I later realised that that same question does not get asked to all human beings on the dating site. It usually gets asked to brown-skinned girls or girls that have a darker skin tone. Yes. I didn’t believe it as well. If you don’t remember being asked this question, its either you are very light-skinned, or you haven’t been paying attention. Once I realised that the question is reserved for people like me…. dark skin-toned girls/ladies, I wanted to find out what the meaning of the question was. What I found was disturbing.

What is a microaggression?

The question was asked quiet often on the dating site, especially by fellow South Africans. This question is a microaggression. According to Rhodes Perry, “a microaggression is a brief, everyday exchange that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” Microaggressions are not meant to find out about another human being. They are meant to demean, judge, and marginalise the other person. They are meant to make one feel less than they are, and to make them feel like they do not belong.’ Where do you really come from’ is meant to make one feel vulnerable. In that, whoever is asking will then take advantage of that vulnerability.

Another interesting thing that surprised me about the question and online dating was that all those men who asked me, ‘where do you really come from?’, never asked me who I really was. They didn’t ask me the following questions, ‘what excites you?’, ‘what frightens you?’, ‘what keeps you awake at night?’ and ‘what do you live for?’ The above questions were what I needed to be asked and what I was looking forward to asking. But I couldn’t even ask them. Let me say, I didn’t last long on the online dating site. I think it was because I was always annoyed by the question, ‘where do you really come from?’. I wanted someone to ask me deep questions like, ‘what do you live for?’ I found the dating site very superficial for me. I was also annoyed by the question because it is not an innocent question. The question can mean any or all the statements below. ‘You don’t belong’. ‘You are too dark’, ‘you are too short’, ‘too something or you are not enough of something’. Most of the individuals who ask the question are trying to cover up their insecurities and want to show someone as if they are inadequate.

I heard the question enough times that one day I thought, ‘How should I answer it in future’?. This is the answer I came up with to the question, “Where do you really come from?” My answer is, “I come from Mars. The reason I ended up on earth is because there was a war between two tribes on Mars. My tribe was defeated, and we were banished to earth. That’s how I ended up here in Africa, in South Africa, in Limpopo, and then Pretoria. I really do come from Mars. And if you really want to know how people live in Mars, you can ask me. So, where do you really come from?”. I went out of the online dating before I could answer this question. But if someone asks me today ‘where I really come from’, that is my answer.

Examples of Microaggression in South Africa

Where do you really come from is not the only microaggression. There are others that are equally hurtful. Statements like, ‘Does your hair grow? ‘You people’- I was once asked , ‘do you people drink coffee’. The ‘You people’ mean black or Africans in South Africa. Other microaggressions are sophisticated but equally hurtful, like, ‘You speak good English’. I went to school in Limpopo, and I often hear something like, ‘You speak better than people from Limpopo. All microaggressions are hurtful, judgemental, demeaning, and marginalising. Where do you really come from is personal for me because I am a brown-skinned woman. I have two kids who are brown skinned but a much lighter tone than mine. They never get asked, ‘Where do you really come from?’

Imagine experiencing the hurtful, demeaning, and judgemental comments daily. What kind of nation have we become? Are we satisfied by the policy of separate development by continuing to classify the people according to their skin tone? Are we also going to continue the pencil test? Has apartheid damaged the thinking so badly that we cannot see each other beyond the skin tones. I was dating a guy and I showed him a picture of my sister. He commented that my sister is so dark she looks like she is from north of the Beitbridge Border Post. Let me just say, he is now my ex. My sister looks like me. It’s my sister. What was he thinking? You mess with my sister, and you mess with me.

‘Where do you really come from’ is not a compliment. It is an insult. It is meant to demean and tell you that you do not belong. If you are on an online dating site or meet someone, and they ask you where you come from. But they continue to ask you where you really come? If you are a girl, this is what you should do. If you are sitting down, stand up, pick up your bag, and proceed to your car. Let him see the bottom of your shoes as you walk away. If you are standing up, turn around and walk away. Let him see the back of your head as you walk away. It means you are dealing with a superficial guy who will probably not know how to meet your needs if you are in a relationship.

My question today is, where should brown-skinned, dark-skinned girls ‘really’ come from? I have friends in every South African Province who are dark-skinned. And they were born in that province. What does that mean? Where do you really come from in dating means, I do not respect you enough as a person to ask you the questions below;

What do you live for?

What keeps awake at night?

What is standing in the way of what you live for?

What gets you excited?

What are your dreams and goals?

In future, if anyone asks me ‘where do you really come from’? My answer is simple, “I am from Mars? I am sure you can see by my skin tone. Where do you really come from?”

Vhutsilo Masibigiri

Speaker, Writer, HR Consultant with over 25 years of work experience. She is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategist, and writes for Diversity SA