Difference Between Expat, Immigrant? How White You Are

These 'hierarchical words' have got to go: Mawuna Remarque Koutonin
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2015 1:03 PM CDT
Difference Between Expat, Immigrant? How White You Are
Expatriate Arthur Buchman hangs an American flag in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008.   (AP Photo/John McConnico)

When you see mention of Americans or Europeans living on shores that aren't their own, you inevitably see them referred to as "expatriates." But when you see mention of, say, Mexicans or Africans living on shores that aren't their own, they often get a different label: immigrants. For Mawuna Remarque Koutonin, writing at the Guardian, it's evidence that "in the lexicon of human migration, there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else." Given that expatriate means basically "out of the fatherland," one would "expect that any person going to work outside of his or her country for a period of time would be an expat." But that's decidedly not the case, writes Koutonin. "Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants." Expat, meanwhile, is "reserved exclusively for western white people."

"I'm a highly qualified immigrant, as they call me, to be politically correct," says one African who works abroad for multinationals. Koutonin points to the Wall Street Journal's Expat blog, and one post in which a Canadian living in Hong Kong ponders the nuance thusly: "Some arrivals are described as expats; others as immigrants; and some, simply migrants," and ultimately that designation "depends on social class, country of origin, and economic status." When Koutonin spots "expats" in Africa, he's going to "call them immigrants like everyone else," so we can complete "the political deconstruction of this outdated worldview." Click for his full column. (Read more expatriates stories.)

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