Citizenship Resource or Privilege By Ebun Joseph Author, Equality activist & Motivational speaker

Citizenship Resource or Privilege By Ebun Joseph Author, Equality activist & Motivational speaker

One of the aims of equality is for a world in which people’s overall resources are much more equal than they are now, so that people’s prospects for a good life are roughly similar. However, many migrants of Black African descent who don’t have European citizenship and are living in majority white societies experience inequality in status due to their race which is further exacerbated by their colour. Race is a very real social classification that has both cultural ramifications as well as maintaining a social order where Europeans have grouped people hierarchically as it has been suggested with Caucasians as the pinnacle, then Asians and Native Americans, then Africans at the bottom of the racial ladder. Derrick Bell’s book ‘Faces at the bottom of the Well’ captures this clearly. Today, Black African migrants face large scale inequality of respect and recognition as in many communities they are still at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Some people wonder why many people of African descent can’t just let the race issue die. Such questions I say is the exact reason why. Do you ask a woman when will being a woman stop being important to you? Do you ask a white skinned person, when will you let the privilege associated with being white stop? Then again whiteness studies tells us that whiteness is a supplier of privilege that many Caucasians take for granted and are not even aware of.

Though colonial and ancient hierarchies are not as prominent today as they were centuries ago, there is still a global hierarchy into which people have to fit. Such that even when one doesn’t want to fit into a racial classification, society actually ascribes it unto individuals and groups. From the multiple forms one has to fill, immigration border controls, college admissions, census, everything asks for self-classification because it has to assign one. Though race is not a biological attribute, many societies still take an essentialist view and treat it as if it is. Howard Winant described succinctly the important role race plays and that “to be without race is akin – similar to being genderless.” Unfortunately, society is stratified and it is racial in nature with colour being central because it is instantly recognisable and it defines difference at a glance. Some social scientists describe “colour as the universal calling card of difference” and a “racial uniform.”

Due to the difficulty experienced by non EEA migrants, the value of having European citizenship is an absolute benefit. However, many migrants are finding that even in the face of all the symbolic benefits, they are still plagued with being at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder especially in their job seeking process and economic mobility. Though some critics claim this is due to laziness, lack of hard work or personal efforts, many race theorists claim it is mainly due to the racial stratification of Black Africans in society. This hegemonic racial structure is one of dominance and oppression which is evident in almost everyday life of migrants from outside the EEA. For example, the routes open for migration to the Republic of Ireland in the early 2000’s for migrants from outside the EEA to gain legal residency status in the state were either as non-EU fee paying students which meant exorbitant fees; highly skilled professionals which eliminated a good number of desiring migrants and the asylum process. Up until late 2012 that remained the case, until recent initiatives by the Minister of Justice which requires investments as high as €500,000 and potential to create jobs or the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme which requires an investment of €75,000 keeping that route still un-accessible to the working class.

As difficult as the migration process is for this group, we still have 298 failed asylum seekers deported in 2011 while Ireland for the same period was one of the first countries to open its doors to thousands of migrants from the EU to full participation in the labour market. It would seem easy enough to conclude that “Fortress Europe” as many have come to call it would seem to portray people from outside the EEA as the ‘undesirables.’ Particularly seeing that economically, the country was in need of migrant labour, it still decided which set of migrants (based on racial category) were welcome and those who were not by its actions of deporting the ‘undesirables.’

Many migrants of Black African descent are mainly still accorded treatment, status and ‘respect’ or (disrespect) given to racially stratified people from black African communities. Also, in employment application, though stating ones nationality is no longer a requirement it is easily deduced especially for first generation migrants through their early year’s education and names.  Prejudice and racism makes it possible for employment seeking candidates to be ascribed stereotyped personality, ethnicity and cultures irrespective of their actual attributes. A 2009 study showed the extent of the problem in Ireland as employer’s responses differed depending on the candidates’ names. There were less positive responses to migrants applications when compared with identical CV’s with Irish identities. As important as having European citizenship is for migrants from outside the EEA, racism against black Africans makes it difficult to fully enjoy its benefits.

Indeed the benefits of Irish citizenship for Black Africans includes enjoying the free flowing EU queue at immigration border controls; having the right to recourse to the law when deprived of rights and privileges available to all citizens; access to apply for public jobs (though there is no guarantee they will get the job or even be shortlisted for interviews); the right to vote in main elections; pay EU fees for college; access to apply for university grants; unrestricted mobility within Europe and less visa fees even for short holidays. But again, these are privileges that some have automatically but Black Africans from outside the EEA have to earn. It disadvantages those that don’t have it and does not seem to provide enough protection against racism, prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination for those who do.