It was a sunny summer morning at my local station. I was dawdling at the end of the platform to avoid the crowds, scrolling through my phone, headphones out. Just me and a harmless-looking older man, watching the minutes tick by before the train pulled in.
He spoke to me. I can't remember exactly what he said or why he thought it was okay to approach me about this particular topic, but he started off innocuously and then escalated the conversation a little, throwing in an unexpected phrase; "too many of these bloody foreigners", and he nodded towards me, waiting for my assent, my approval.
"I disagree", I replied, as firmly as I could without breaching the perimeters of politeness. "I myself am a foreigner. It's not a problem for me."
As always, I was met with the usual responses. I speak English so well! I don't look foreign! All manner of justifications.What it really boils down to is, he looked at me and he saw a white face and he felt he could connect with me. He felt I would agree with him.
Here's the thing.
I hold a British passport. My birth certificate was registered in this country. I've spoken English since birth, and yes, I'm aware, that for all intents and purposes, I am mostly white.
I also consider myself mostly a foreigner in this country. We left when I was three years old. I consider Luxembourg my home and the UK my adopted country, despite the fact my parents are British. We integrated deeply into the local community, with a handful of expats to keep the mother tongue going. So in conversation, when people ask me where I'm from, my answer is always layered. I tell them my home, which is Luxembourg. I tell them my nationality, which is British. And if I am questioned on my ethnicity, I am proud to say I am mixed race.
Why am I talking about this today, of all days?
All year a ball has been rolling and quickly gathering size and speed; a movement which, to my eyes, has seemed to legitimise xenophobia and overt racism, and nationalism on a scale I naively did not think could exist in 2016. This week the papers have been full of grand plans unveiled at the Tory conference - plans which will directly affect each and every one of us UK residents in the wake of Brexit.
My social media is a blessed echo chamber of people who, like me, watch aghast at each new headline, who retweet furiously, raging against the decisions of our government; who share articles and petitions against an ongoing wave of hopelessness. If it were up to me, I'd retreat happily into this echo chamber of like-minded souls, safe from the nastiness of the world. But it isn't up to me.
As a third culture kid with my Luxo-Brit background, it was only natural that I voted to remain in the EU. My lycée was named after the chap who set the ball rolling for the European Union, for goodness' sake. Most people I know voted to remain, and the ones that did not voted to leave because they had valid concerns regarding some of the EU policies. But the voices that became prevalent in the media and across Twitter and Facebook were those of immigrant-fearing, close-minded individuals, that started as a whisper and grew into a deafening roar. They drowned out their fellow Leave voters (because I certainly don't want to believe that 51% of voters hate immigrants). Thanks to UKIP and social media and now our actual government, anyone with xenophobic tendencies now feels that their bigotry is legitimised, that their hurtful opinions are to be shouted from the rooftops. I've seen countless stories of people being verbally attacked in the street; people born here, no less, as British as I am, being told to "go back where they came from".
Not a day goes without another headline, another proposed policy, without me feeling sick to my stomach. It's not longer just about leaving the EU. There is a nasty rhetoric evolving throughout the land, an anti-foreigner feeling supplemented by the announcements that companies will have to declare their foreign employees, that international students will be limited, that even foreign doctors - life savers, quite literally - will be pushed out at some point. I can't help but wonder if people in 1930s Germany felt the same way; whether they felt dubious, fearful, quizzical about their government's ideas. And we all know how that turned out.
So I want to be twice as loud about my "otherness" these days. I want to proudly proclaim that I am British and I am foreign in the same breath, in spite of our PM telling us that citizens of the world are citizens of nowhere. We are not. We helped build the very fabric of our society. The UK in 2016 would be nothing without the melting pot of nationalities and cultures that make us up right now. On a personal level, I would not even exist, were it not for my Indian grandfather settling here in the 1950s, a fresh-faced teenager with a wealth of possibilities ahead of him. I wouldn't be here, had my grandmother's family not fled Austria in the same time period, as they watched their country crumble before their eyes. I am the sum total of my family's experiences and my own. I am built of pieces of England and Luxembourg and India and Austria, of white and not white, of a history that spreads across Europe and beyond. This has never felt more important than it does today.
I fully acknowledge my privilege, by the way. I hate that the fact that I look white and hold a British passport somehow means I should be accepted any more than someone who does not. I can't sit here and talk about racism and how it has affected me directly, but I've seen it affect my dad, my grandpa, my friends, and I have never been the sort of person to let that slide. It should not happen. It disgusts me that it still has a place in our world.
I am frightened of what could come to pass, I won't lie. I don't want to flee and I don't want to remain passive while politics affect our daily life to a point of no return. I hope and pray that my greatest fears won't come to pass, so I remind myself daily that I am not alone and that there are still decent people who believe in a society that unites against intolerance and bigotry. I hope that by writing this I can connect with people who feel the same. Our world is bigger today than it ever has been before - we can reach an audience across countries, across borders, across oceans. Fearing the foreign is not the answer. We have never needed to bind together more than we do today.
So where do I come from? Right now, I'm from Britain. And I need it to change for the better before I change my mind.