On the same day I interviewed a white Dutch man living in Gurugram, just south of New Delhi, I spoke with a black Congolese migrant.
Their contradictory experiences speak eloquently about the impact of skin colour on shaping migrants’ everyday experiences.
The Dutch gentleman, who is in his 30s, told me he increased his business team’s success rate in closing business deals just by showing up.
If you bring a Western guy … then they really feel important, so if I come in there I almost feel like a God. […] Honestly, every meeting where I have been, they give me business afterwards … I always see that the business is increasing when I’ve been there. Not that because I’m so good, [but] because I’m a Western guy.
The Congolese gentleman had been living in India for about a decade. He had recently lost his job and been evicted from his apartment.
He suspected that in both cases his dark skin was to blame. Africans have a very hard time finding housing in South Delhi’s more middle-class colonies because people don’t like to rent to Africans.
Africans also report being vulnerable to sudden evictions and being harassed for rent money even when it’s not due.
The Dutch man’s white privilege makes him more effective in the workplace.
It also imbues him with special status in the gated residential community where he lives with his family.
He rents rather than owning an apartment, but was invited to sit in on meetings with homeowners – a privilege not extended to Indian tenants.
The Dutch and Congolese men’s experiences are echoed in many emerging market economies.
My research focuses on migration and globalisation, primarily on what I call “frontier migration”: the movement of people, capital, technology and ideas from a more “developed” economy to one that’s less “developed”.
Through my work in India and earlier research in South Africa, I have concluded that migrant experience is over determined by perceived socio-economic class and what the migrant looks like – eye shape, height, hair texture and race.
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