Expat Privilege

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin on why white Americans and Europeans get to be “expats” but Africans and Asians and Hispanics can only be “immigrants” or “migrant workers”:

“The reality is the same in Africa and Europe. Top African professionals going to work in Europe are not considered expats. They are immigrants. Period. ‘I work for multinational organisations both in the private and public sectors. And being black or coloured doesn’t gain me the term ‘expat’. I’m a highly qualified immigrant, as they call me, to be politically correct,’ says an African migrant worker.

Most white people deny that they enjoy the privileges of a racist system. And why not? But our responsibility is to point out and to deny them these privileges, directly related to an outdated supremacist ideology. If you see those ‘expats’ in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there. The political deconstruction of this outdated worldview must continue.”

I agree in principle that the term expat is highly loaded along racial and class lines, but would calling myself a migrant worker (I’ve been working in South Korea for over six years) really be appropriate?  I’d be likening my situation (decent salary, free housing, very cheap health care, and while I actively study Korean I don’t really have to to get by) to that of a Mexican meat-packer or vegetable picker in Iowa or California who doesn’t even have a working toilet, let alone proper labor rights and safety regulations?

Maybe it’s naive, but in calling myself an expat I thought the privilege of the term was already obvious.  As a white male living abroad I have a guaranteed level of privilege and comfort that should be extended to anybody working abroad, albeit we’re further away than ever from a properly just global labor system.

But I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a highly educated African living in Europe or America who will always be called an immigrant.  That’s truly messed up and racist as hell.

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This entry was posted in ESL, Kultur, Language, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Expat Privilege

  1. This is a good article, I just read it in The Guardian.

  2. Kokoba says:

    This has sparked the longest, craziest debate on my Facebook wall in months (probably since something gaemergaet related, ugh).

    “Maybe it’s naive, but in calling myself an expat I thought the privilege of the term was already obvious. As a white male living abroad I have a guaranteed level of privilege and comfort that should be extended to anybody working abroad, albeit we’re further away than ever from a properly just global labor system.”

    This is a good spin on it. At the end of the day, I think the crux of the article isn’t over the usage of “expat,” but rather the usage of “immigrant” (as you’ve pointed out). This is, sadly, still problematic and shitty as hell, even in supposed cosmopolitan postwhatever paradises like Sweden, as I’ve observed firsthand.

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