Taiye Selasi: Don't ask where I'm from, ask where I'm a local
Taiye Selasi - Author
In her writings, Taiye Selasi explores our relationship to our multiple identities. Full bio
alas, with a lie:
from Ghana and Nigeria,"
from England and the States."
and grew up in the United States.
and raised in Nigeria,
a British colony,
in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
also called me "multinational."
with the writer Colum McCann.
of locality in writing,
for going on two decades.
naturally occurring things,
was an absolute,
had disappeared -- Czechoslovakia;
failed -- Somalia.
that didn't exist when they were born.
be born, die, expand, contract --
for understanding a human being.
to discover the sovereign state.
of sovereign statehood,
only 400 years ago.
masters degree in international relations,
to re- or un-define myself,
"What is an Afropolitan,"
that privileged culture over country.
could relate to my experience,
didn't buy my sense of self.
one such critic asked,
on a Ghanian passport?"
who was born and raised in Ghana.
Ghanians of Lebanese descent.
knows Accra like the back of her hand,
I thought, "She's not from Ghana."
that all her formative experience
where all Ghanaians had brown skin
from countries sets --
the singular country,
the penny finally dropped.
I proclaimed onstage.
from the United States," isn't the truth.
with the United States,
the town where I grew up;
where I spend Thanksgiving.
is not my passport or accent,
and my love of Ghanaian food,
with the Republic of Ghana, writ large.
where my mother lives,
where my father and I talk for hours.
that shape my experience.
of "Where are you from?" --
about who and how similar we are.
and I see what, a set of clichés?
the myth of the nation of France?
a set of experiences.
rituals, relationships, restrictions.
whatever they may be:
saying your prayers.
do shopkeepers know your face?
suburban rituals in Boston,
my mother brought from London and Lagos.
polite with our elders,
ours were rituals of the global South.
or to southern parts of Italy,
of the people who shape your days.
your Facebook friends.
your weekly emotional experience.
my twin sister in Boston,
our rituals and relationships,
where are you able to live?
from feeling fully at home where you live?
where you had your rituals as a child?
"Where are you now?"
on top of three columns,
as honestly as you can.
of your life in local context,
came to Germany on scholarships.
and lived there until age 10.
he studied in London,
in northwest Argentina,
from Germany, what is now Poland,
and nine years ago came to Berlin.
the weather, the food, the friends --
Udo could pass for German,
so needs a visa to live in Berlin.
has largely to do with history.
of Buenos Aires and Berlin,
needs a visa to visit Nigeria.
"not really Nigerian," though,
is undoubtedly one of his homes,
by the political conditions
most meaningful rituals
and Udo is from Argentina
and their restrictions are the same.
"Where are you from?"
than "Lagos and Berlin,"
we can always zoom in closer,
"Where are you from?"
with the language of locality asks us
to where real life occurs.
of countryhood, the World Cup,
mostly of multilocal players.
for human experience,
but my parents come from Nigeria."
belies the inflexibility of the units,
bumping up against another.
suggests overlapping experiences,
that can't be denied or removed.
that we do away with countries.
for national history,
and community exists in context.
these things are important.
began with reference to nation,
from would tell my audience who I was.
when we ask where someone comes from?
when we hear an answer?
Mexico. Poland. Bangladesh. Less power.
we're playing a power game,
of multi-ethnic countries.
or "Where are you really from?"
William Deresiewicz's writing
their environment is diverse
and another from Pakistan --
are doctors or bankers."
student body diversity
are locals of the same milieu.
of the economic spectrum.
and a Nepali housekeeper in Delhi
in terms of rituals and restrictions
with coming from countries
to "go back" to Ghana.
but I can't "go back" to Ghana.
and find it exactly where we left it.
will always have changed,
about is human experience,
locality bespeaks humanity.
about where a story is set,
the characters start to feel,
and the vocabulary of coming from
into mutually exclusive categories.
with an acknowledgement of this complexity
not further apart.
like everybody here.
but a citizen of worlds.
Rome and Accra."
About the speaker:Taiye Selasi - Author
In her writings, Taiye Selasi explores our relationship to our multiple identities.
Why you should listen
A writer and photographer of Nigerian and Ghanaian descent, born in London and raised in Boston, now living in Rome and Berlin, who has studied Latin and music, Taiye Selasi is herself a study in the modern meaning of identity. In 2005 she published the much-discussed (and controversial) essay "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What Is an Afropolitan?)," offering an alternative vision of African identity for a transnational generation. Prompted by writer Toni Morrison, the following year she published the short story "The Sex Lives of African Girls" in the literary magazine Granta.
Her first novel Ghana Must Go, published in 2013, is a tale of family drama and reconciliation, following six characters and spanning generations, continents, genders and classes.
Taiye Selasi | Speaker | TED.com