Thursday, May 20, 2010

Offensive identities: immigrant, migrant, refugee

Apologies for the lack of posts in the past few weeks, a couple of us have been busy organising a conference for young people from migrant and refugee communities. But I really want to bring this issue of internalised racism.

A definition:

Just what is internalized racism? One might describe it as a fancy term for a problem that’s pretty easy to grasp. In a society where racial prejudice thrives in politics, communities, institutions and popular culture, it’s difficult for racial minorities to avoid absorbing the racist messages that constantly bombard them. Thus, even people of color sometimes adopt a white supremacist mindset that results in self-hatred and hatred of their respective racial group. Minorities suffering from internalized racism, for example, may loathe the physical characteristics that make them racially distinct such as skin color, hair texture or eye shape. Others may stereotype those from their racial group and refuse to associate with them. And some may outright identify as white. Overall, minorities suffering from internalized racism buy into the notion that whites are superior to people of color.

Just from talking to other young people of Asian/Middle Eastern/African descent about this conference, I've encountered a quite a few people who reacted quite negatively to the labels of "migrant", "immigrant" and "refugee". A lot of people who have grown up in Aotearoa/NZ or have been here for most of their life, who feel more "kiwi" than their parents' culture or ethnicity, really seem to want to distance themselves from the identity of migrant/immigrant/refugee. I can understand where they are coming from, having become more acculturated and assimilated, but I think it's really revealing how being called an "immigrant" is offensive (like, "I can't believe you thought I was one THEM").